Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2019, Part Five

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Emily A. Sprague, Water Memory / Mount Vision (RVNG Intl.) Sprague was born in the Catskills but currently resides in Los Angeles, and maybe I’m just succumbing to possible stereotypes relating to ambient synth-based sound design of this style (we’re not far from Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith territory), but the work offered here seems a perfect byproduct of the US West Coast. This 2LP collects two prior cassettes self-released in small editions by Sprague, and it adds previously unheard tracks to each, so even if you have the tapes, there is reason to invest in a copy of this set; the edition of 200 with ocean blue and mountain green LPs is sold out, but the 800-copy flat black run is still available, as are CDs. Also, a portion of the proceeds benefits the LGBTQ center in Kingston, NY.

The first 300 mail order customers will receive Ambient Poems (2017 – 2018), a Risograph-printed booklet of Emily’s poetry. However, if you’re late to the game or just pick up a copy of the release at your local brick and mortar, Sprague’s writing still enters the equation, as both Water Memory and Mount Vision begin with a short poem; make that short, appealing poems recited by the author. They provide just enough of a taste to instill the desire to read more of her stuff, as the records shift focus to her music, which stands up wholly on its own (notably, neither poem was part of the original tapes). It’s not that further word-sound combos wouldn’t be of interest, it just that doing so here would (seemingly) diminish the music’s standalone power. Which is considerable. This is very fine work. A-

Causa Sui, Summer Sessions Vols. 1-3 (El Paraiso) These early LPs by this Danish space-rock/ stoner outfit are available together as a slipcase boxset, but only directly from the label and in an edition of 200. Importantly, the albums are also purchasable separately in stores and from online retailers, with numbers totaling 750 each. Initially released separately in 2008-’09 (on wax and CD) by the Elektrohasch Schallplattenin label, it appears they corralled the contents into a vinyl box in 2010 and again in ‘13, but it’s pretty clear that non-used copies of those are scarce, and of course the original standalone vinyl. At the onset, the Summer Sessions were intended as a side-project of sorts for Causa Sui, and more specifically a way to branch out stylistically, with inroads established into free jazz, Krautrock and more.

The branching is handled well, with guest saxman Johan Riedenlow blowing hard on Vol. 2’s “Rip Tide” as the electric piano and extensive guitar soloing bring a non-lame fusion flavor to the track that follows, “The Open Road,” which also features Riedenlow (he’s all over all three LPs, in fact). But Causa Sui also like to stretch out, doing so right away on side one of Vol. 1 with the appropriately temperate “Visions of Summer,” though the cut does offer some organ grinding that put me in a decidedly prog state of mind. Although “The Open Road” breaks 14 minutes, Vol. 2 drops the side-long number “Tropic of Capricorn” on side two, and fans of unhackneyed rock heaviness are unlikely to be disappointed. The multipart “Manifestations Of Summer” wraps up Vol. 3 on a nicely expansive note. A-/ A-/ A- Box A-

Massimo Amato, Lost Sunsets (Pregnant Void) The PR describes Amato as an electroacoustic sound sculptor, and to my ear the description fits well, though I’ll note that he avoids the abstract severity of some electroacoustic stuff. So, if you’re expecting to be daunted, don’t be. Interestingly, “Dreaming of You,” courtesy of some exploratory but unperturbed trumpet and when combined with a recurring glitchiness, kinda put me in a ten-years-ago frame of mind, and hey, come to find out, the tracks date from 2007-’10. A few other elements, like the rhythm in “Folksong,” reinforce the decade-back vibe. No mention of why it took so long to come out. That might be because it’s none of my business. And as other aspects forecast neoclassical and rehabilitated New Age, the vintage is ultimately no big deal B+

Budokan Boys, DAD IS BAD (Baba Vanga) This is a long-distance duo made up of Viennese composer Jeff T Byrd and the New Orleans-based writer Michael Jeffrey Lee (noted for his short stories) which started out as one of those last-minute live performance situations with little prep time; this often works best in front of an audience (who likely know the deal). Overall, this stuff takes inspired and imaginative individuals with quick decision-making skills over what is a smart move and what is not. This is apparently the mode of Budokan Boys’ early work, but DAD IS BAD is clearly a little more preconceived, especially in Lee’s texts, which are weird and occasionally disturbing; the treated nature of the vocals adds to this aura, which is decidedly “spoken word.” Byrd’s music is refreshingly devoid of quirk. B+

Alice Cohen & The Channel 14 Weather Team, Artificial Fairytales (NNA Tapes) Without reading up on this LP, the name had me mulling over something in the vocal group soul zone, a la The Pointer Sisters or later LaBelle. Well no, but I wasn’t that far off really, as this is undeniably and unabashedly retro ’80s electro-pop styling. This isn’t a genre niche that thrills me when I read about it, but savvy practitioners have won me over. This release, Cohen’s sixth solo full-length but the first I’ve heard because it’s the first one that was sent to me (I think), does a good job of making a positive impression (mostly), primarily because she leans to the (lightly, pop) funky side of things. It also helps that the deeper I listen to the sounds created by Cohen and her band (of two), the more subtly weird things (can) get. B+

David Hillyard & The Rocksteady 7, Playtime (ORG Music) Here’s the debut from this Jamaican jazz (ska) unit, originally issued on Hellcat back in 1999, debuting on vinyl with this edition. In this house, the consistently high quality on display across these 12 tracks (though it looks like the wax has been whittled down to ten) is something of a big deal, as I was fairly underwhelmed with ORG’s prior release from this bunch, The Giver. Part of the reason related to the vocals; while there is singing on Playtime, it’s by Alex Desert and Greg Lee; both are far more agreeable to my ear (on just two tracks) than Sean Wheeler on The Giver. Opener “Sidney’s March” sweetly (if briefly) explores a New Orleanian theme, the Beatles number (“Norwegian Wood”) is handled with aplomb, and this is instant dance party on wax. A-

Didi Kern and Philipp Quehenberger, “Ha Ha Ha” (Siluh) Along with playing noise-rock in the bands Bulbul and Fuckhead, Austrian drummer Kern has contributed to avant-jazz situations with such august names as Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson and Weasel Walter. For this team-up with electronic musician Quehenberger (who has solo records on the Cheap, Minimal Soul, and Editions Mego labels), Kern essentially dishes out muscular dance beats. I say essentially because his approach to the physical drumkit certainly distinguishes the rhythmic thrust; things get most conventionally dancy in the title track, which features guest Christian Fennesz. Opener “Crowd Pleaser” starts things out in a noisy zone, but the general tone gradually adjusts to an avant-clubby affair, which guest cellist Noid accentuates. B+

L’Eclair, Sauropoda (Beyond Beyond is Beyond) The label says that this LP, the second from this Geneva, Switzerland-based groove-focused outfit, was recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs, and that’s discernible. The sound of L’Eclair is undisguisedly composed of elements from well-established older styles, but I wouldn’t call it retro, at least not overall. The term prog-funk has been cited, but I kinda prefer the expanded descriptor of Afro-disco, kosmische, and assorted subgenres of electronic dance. Expanding from co-founders Sébastien Bui and Stefan Lilov into a seven-piece, the results hit the intersection of infectious and cerebral. Sauropoda never sounds cheesy or like it’s opportunistically swiping and blending influences in an attempt at eclecticism. This stuff flows with no sense of strain. A-

Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, The Complete Capitol Singles: 1971–1975 (Omnivore) Scott B. Bomar’s notes for this 2CD set make no exorbitant claims for the material collected here, and that makes a difference. Bomar does emphasize how Owens openly experimented with his signature sound once he got set up in his own Bakersfield studio, and sheds some light on his decision to record pop and rock material like opening track “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The Simon tune sounds fine, as does a fair percentage of the whole, though there’s just too much wince-inducing novelty material overall (and so-so duets, and a subpar Xmas single) for me to rate this too highly. Again, the notes smartly place this period in historical context, though Bomar’s assessment is ultimately a bit kinder than mine. B

Protovulcan, Life is Twigs (Midwest Action) The idea is far from new, specifically the combination of heavy rock with synths and electronics. The notable difference here lies in how this Chicago-based trio, on their third album (released physically on tape and CD), avoid the rigidity of machine rhythms, which in the “rock” sphere regularly strive for maximum pummeling a la Big Black, who did it well (most others did not); interestingly, Steve Albini recorded this set. Protovulcan don’t use sequencers or drum machines at all, just synths, though maybe the most distinguishing element is Will MacLean’s vocoder vocals, which definitely remind me of the fictitious record Giorgio Moroder cut after some anonymous soul mailed him a care package of late ’80s-early ’90s records on the Touch and Go label. That’s neat. A-

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders, The Past Came Callin’ (Hound Gawd!) Todd and crew have done it again. Soaking up the old-school pulpiness of the sleeve art brought Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson to mind, so I had a feeling of promise and wasn’t let down. Going back a while, Todd was the catalyst in the underrated Lazy Cowgirls, and if you dug them and don’t know the Rankoutsiders, the chances are good you’ll be pleased. The thrust remains tangibly allegiant to rock ‘n’ roll in its classique and raucous forms (with just a touch of roots that never goes overboard with the twang); think Stones, but also New York Dolls and the New York Heartbreakers, meaning there is still punk sand in these gears. Todd even dips into the R&B zone with “Any Other Way.” But “A New Pair of Eyes” hits as my personal favorite here. A-

Gebhard Ullmann and Basement Research, Impromptus and Other Short Works (WhyPlayJazz) A 25th anniversary CD and the eighth release from Basement Research as led by German tenor saxophonist and bass clarinetist Ullmann. Here the band consists of Jersey-born NYC-based trombonist Steve Swell, the English baritone saxophonist Julian Argüelles, the Franco-German NYC-based double bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and Detroit-born NYC-based drummer Gerald Cleaver. Extant for close to 15 years, Basement Research has been an evolving group, though Swell, Cleaver, and Argüelles first recorded with Ullmann on the Soul Note CD New Basement Research in 2007. For a long while after, the bassist was John Hebert, but Niggenkemper entered the fray on 2015’s Hat and Shoes and remains for this new one.

Befitting the band’s international makeup, the music here is wide-ranging (contemporary compositional methods are part of the scheme), though there is an obvious focus on jazz, with cited attention to Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, and Charles Lloyd. If those names share something, it’s attentiveness to jazz’s roots, which makes the inclusion of the opening “Gospel” and the New Orleans-tinged “Kleine Figuren” and “For Jim – Impromptu #6” unsurprising but quite effective. The latter is part of a six-part suite of new arrangements of pieces from the band’s history, though they’re interestingly presented out of sequence and interspersed with additional tracks, like the terrific “29 Shoes,” which reminds me of those ’60s collective groups featuring Shepp injected with a dose of Ayler’s beautiful wildness. That’s nice. A

Urochromes, Trope House (Wharf Cat) Cool tidy serving of punk bashing on this band’s first LP, though it’s far from their debut. Their Bandcamp page lists them as current residents of NYC, but Urochromes were formed in a Hadley, MA farmhouse in 2015 by Jackie Jackieboy (aka Jack McDermott) and Dick Riddick with guitar-and-drumbox punk the goal. Do they have a record on Feeding Tube? Of course, but this one’s on Wharf Cat, another surefire signifier of quality. Trope House retains the burning tech-infused throttle but travels into some wild pastures, like a cover of Bikini Kill’s “Resist Psychic Death” that’s as unusual as it is killer. And it’s way killer. With cover art from John D. Morton, this is a fine collision of art-punk and KBD, so if you dig that Vicious Visions 45 of yore, I’d say step right up to this. A-

Franck Vigroux, Totem (Aesthetical) Experimental electronic/ electroacoustic composer Vigroux hit this column back in early February with the 4-track EP “Théorème,” of which I concluded: “Hopefully this is just a taste of something longer on the horizon.” Well, here we are, with a 2LP set, though at just a smidge over 55 minutes the 10 selections are quite digestible. Perhaps a larger reason for Totem’s approachable potency is its reality as a concept album, with Vigroux ruminating on ancient cultures in a way that reminded me a bit of Craig Leon’s recent Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 2 and his earlier Nommos and Visiting. However, like Leon’s stuff, there’s nothing here that forces the concept onto the listener. Throughout, Vigroux fruitfully mines Industrial-tinged territory that stands out. A-

Akiko Yano, Iroha Ni Kompeitou (Wewantsounds) After being pleasantly surprised by Yano’s Japanese Girl, I was bracing for a let down here, but after time spent, I dig this one as much and suspect that it might be a grower. But this really shouldn’t have been unexpected; Japanese Girl featured Little Feat, but it was the stuff without Lowell George and company that I liked best. The title track to Iroha Ni Kompeitou was cut in NYC with session musicians from the city, but it doesn’t connect to me as striving for ’70s cosmopolitan pop normalcy, though the record doesn’t lack in the urbane. The rest of the album was cut in Japan with Haruomi Hosono, Tatsuo Hayashi, Shigeru Suzuki and keyboard programming by Hideki Matsutake. There are moments of oddness, but most appealing is Yano’s voice and keyboards. A-

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