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

Part four 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, and part three is here.

BOOK PICK: Rachel Alina, Ashley Smestad Vélez and Birdie Busch, Locals // If You Swim Far Enough (Styles Upon Styles) Locals is a collaborative illustrated chapbook of narratively linked poems; the words are Alina’s, the black & white drawings rendered by Vélez, and it’s a treat of a quick read detailing the author’s youth/ early adulthood in and around her hometown of Ocean City, NJ and her loose apprenticeship as a recording engineer at Scullville Studios (she has subsequently mixed numerous releases on Styles Upon Styles). Alina’s poetry is vivid but direct, effectively relating her experiences, while Vélez’s illustrations, which remind me a bit (but just a bit) of R. Pettibon, enhance the poems (and the storyline of sorts) by expanding upon elements of the text in occasionally unexpected ways.

That is, Vélez is a fine illustrator and a little more. And as said, Locals worked for me as a fast read, but it doesn’t have to be that, and it’s the hope of Alina and the label that buyers will accompany these poems with Birdie Busch’s If You Swim Far Enough, a digital-only release (free with purchase of the book) described as Locals’ companion album (Alina and Busch struck up a friendship through Scullville). I can attest that combining text, drawings and songs is in this case a productive blend, but I’ll add that after a handful of standalone spins, Busch’s nine cuts (totaling a little over 25 minutes) stand up well on their own. Her sound hits the folk target right in the bullseye with no-nonsense verve that should please young and old alike. This strengthens an already sturdy fit with Alina’s words. A-/ A-

NEW RELEASE PICK: Luka Productions, Falaw (Sahel Sounds) Based in Bamako, Mali, Luka Guindo is Luka Productions, and this is his third full-length. Succinctly described as a leading producer in Malian hip-hop, Guindo has employed a highly productive approach in his own work by combining the tech-infused sound of the now with traditional Malian musics. His records feature organic instrumentation including ngoni, djembe, kora, and balafon. Falaw is no different, though it’s distinct in flavor from his prior effort, the “New Age” (Craig Leon-influenced) Fasokan; what’s clear is that Guindo’s creative engine is nowhere close to running low on gas. Falaw is loaded with diversity as it rolls, and if somebody cooked up a 25-minute extended 12-inch remix of “Indienfoli” I’d buy five copies. A-

Spiral Wave Nomads, S/T (Twin Lakes / Feeding Tube) It seems like only yesterday that I made the acquaintance of More Klementines, a psychedelically robust trio featuring drummer and Twin Lakes co-founder Michael Kiefer; that band’s self-titled debut, like this one, was a co-release with Feeding Tube. Spiral Wave Nomads are the duo of Kiefer, who’s also played in Myty Konkeror, Rivener, and No Line North, and Eric Hardiman of Burnt Hills and Century Plants. While Kiefer’s attention remains focused on the drums, Hardiman plays bass, sitar, and double tracks his main instrument, the guitar. This lends the record a full-band feel that’s lacking the unfocused spillage that can result from too many hands. This set is rock-edged but outbound (of course) and not too heavy. It’s never cheesy, not even the sitar. A-

Brainstory, “Dead End” b/w “Mnemophobia” (Big Crown) Brainstory consists of brothers Kevin and Tony Martin plus drummer Eric Hagstrom, a trio “born and bred” in Rialto, CA. Given this single’s release by Big Crown, that soul is part of the equation should be no surprise, but the group also offers a modicum of mellow psych, ’60s-style. It’s a sound that producers regularly fucked-up back in the day (like adding hacky horn charts, for example), but Leon Michels handles both sides here with aplomb. The brothers are also sharp instrumentalists, though the pair’s strong suit on the A-side is rich harmony vocalizing that will appeal to folks who like to listen to old-school slow jams as they watch the sun set while sparking one up at the beach. In joining the Big Crown roster, Brainstory maintained the Cali flair. B+

Willard Gayheart & Friends, At Home in the Blue Ridge (Blue Hens Music) Gayheart is 87 years old, and this is his debut album. His name may ring a bell however, as he’s renowned for his pencil drawings of his home region; he lives and operates a frame shop near Galax, VA. Gayheart’s granddaughter is noted Americana singer-songwriter Dori Freeman, who contributes to this CD along with her father Scott Freeman and husband Nick Falk, the music cut in the frame shop with producers Teddy Thompson and Ed Haber. There’s a definite old-time root to what’s on offer here, but just as prevalent is an assured sense of refinement and aspects of (relative) modernity, like pedal steel. What’s undeniable is that Gayheart’s been singing these songs for decades, and the pleasure they deliver is considerable. A-

Human Switchboard, Who’s Landing In My Hangar? (Fat Possum) The ’81 LP from these Clevelanders is a minor New Wave classic; minor is to say that to my ear it’s overrated by some. While they knocked out a few singles, an EP, and two live records (one an authorized bootleg) between ’77 and ’85, this was to be their only full-length studio effort; it does a fine job extending the Velvets and updating Farfisa-driven garage while sprinkling in some very good songs and pulling off alternating guy-gal lead vocals with aplomb. I do prefer Myrna Marcarian’s singing to Bob Pfeifer’s, in part because she’s not beholden to Lou Reed (or Debbie Harry); I liked her subsequent EP for Okra. If this record doesn’t grab me as strongly a drummer Ron Metz’ later work in The Schramms, it’s still a pretty essential punk/ wave document. A-

Junkie Flamingos, Lemegeton Party (Helen Scarsdale Agency) Luca Sigurtà, Alice Kundalini, and Daniele Delogu are Junkie Flamingos. Each comes to the project, which began in 2017, with prior experience; Sigurtà as an electronic artist, Kundalini for the “death industrial” solo project She Spread Sorrow, and Delogu as a member of the “bombastic folk” outfit Barbarian Pipe Band. Together, this is their debut, and it is my introduction to the three artists’ work. The quoted descriptors of Kundalini’s and Delogu’s earlier stuff had me thinking (hoping) I was gonna get something in the zone of Nurse with Wound and Current 93. Well no, but the descriptor “narcotic” does get used, and it lends credence to the cited comparison to Coil. Kundalini is at the forefront. Things move slowly, yes, but effectively. B+

L’epée, “Dreams” (A Recordings) This 3-song 12-inch, the latest from the label of Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe, continues the imprint’s quality winning-streak. Like every other A Recordings’ release I’ve encountered, Newcombe plays an instrumental role, here joined by Emmaunelle Seigner (of Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle) and Lionel and Marie Liminana (of the Liminanas). If I didn’t know an LP was imminent, I might’ve perceived this as a cool one-off. The title track and “Last Picture Show” blend some yé-yé action with a tough ’60s garage approach, and it’s easy to imagine this going down a storm in the discotheque. Apparently, the band thought the same, as the flip is an “Extended A-Go-Go” mix of “Dreams.” If not a knockout, this is altogether enjoyable. Bring on the LP. B+

Thee Oh Sees, Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion (Castle Face) Around this joint, the definition of a welcome vinyl reissue has three variables: A) I don’t have the record. B) I want the record C) Clean playing, inexpensive used copies are scarce. That means this release, a “live” set deriving from early in this prolific (and unusually consistent) San Fran band’s tenure, is quite welcome. I tend to dig their heavier rocking approach best, but the bent psych on display here (dare I say almost New Weird at times) goes down nice, especially on side two. This has been on wax before, but those editions are no longer affordable. Originally released in 2009 on the Tomlab label as a CD/DVD set, this edition comes without the disc of moving images, but expecting everything in this world is a surefire ticket to misery. B+

POW!, Shift (Castle Face) This San Fran outfit now has four LPs out, but Shift is the first I’ve heard. The sound is synth-punk, but where some bands of this stripe gravitate toward programmed rhythms (we can call their thing drumbox punk), Pow! have a living breathing skin-beater in Cameron Allen. Byron Blum handles the guitar, while Melissa Blue is in charge of the ample rubbery reverberating synth tones that suggest Tubeway Army or Ultravox, or better yet a small fledgling group circa ’78 that’s heavily impacted by Gary Numan or John Foxx. This started out strong with the interwoven phone sounds of “Connection,” but “Peter” made it readily apparent that Pow! have a solid handle on inventive song construction. There are plenty of moments that underscore the punk in their equation, as well. A-

Lee Ranaldo/Jim Jarmusch/Marc Urselli/Balázs Pándi, S/T (Trost) According to the PR sheet, the idea for this collaboration was Urselli’s. The first two names are easily the most recognizable, with Ranaldo formerly of Sonic Youth and Jarmusch a director of renown but also a musician of note. The presence of engineer, producer, mixer and sound designer Urselli might not ring as many knowledge bells, but he’s won three Grammys, recorded over 100 releases with John Zorn alone and worked with a ton of folks including Lou and Laurie, Les Paul, and Luther fucking Vandross. Balázs Pándi also has extensive credits, starting out as a metal drummer and then gravitating toward avant-jazz and noise; he’s played with Wadada Leo Smith, Merzbow, Mats Gustafsson, and Ranaldo’s ex-guitar flank Thurston Moore.

These assembled figures, along with the flaunted reality that their “first-time meeting” is free of overdubs or editing with everything recorded live, might lead one to expect roughly an hour’s worth (on the CD, which offers two bonus tracks) of loose improv splatter, but no, at least not in the in-your-face sense; which is to say it’s a non-splatter situation. The band, with Ranaldo and Jarmusch both credited with guitars and pedals (the former also plays bells, the latter mini-synth), Urselli with bass and laptop, and Pándi with drums (natch), does work up some terrific atmospheric glide hovering betwixt psych rock and abstraction, with the 19-minute “Groa” (the songs were all named by Urselli, inspired by Norwegian mythology) working perfect as the LP closer as it fills the entirety of side two. A-

Mark Turner, Meets Gary Foster (Capri) Alto saxophonist Foster is the veteran (from jazz to soundtracks to the Academy Awards band), though tenor-man Turner has been on the scene since the ’90s (playing in the Billy Hart Quartet; ‘nuff said). This 2CD offers both sets, one on each disc, from a performance given on February 8, 2003. That evening, Turner and Foster were joined by bassist Putter Smith and drummer Joe La Barbara for the express purpose of playing the music of Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, and Lennie Tristano, with some well-known tunes given inspired readings. I’m knocked out by the bunch; Marsh’s “Background Music,” which opens the night, Tristano’s “Lennie’s Pennies” and “317 East 32nd Street,” and Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee,” which, after nearly 90 minutes, wraps up set two.

There’s also a pair of standards added to the program (Turner’s playing at the start of “Come Rain or Come Shine” is a startling thing of beauty) plus a wonderfully swinging take of Sonny Red’s “’Teef.” This is what’s called added value, because in my experience (and this is no great revelation) people (like me) are either smitten with the Tristano “school” (of which Marsh and Konitz were students) or they are not. There is some middle ground, and it often has to do with Konitz, who has recorded a lot and in varied contexts (Tristano and Marsh have far more limited discographies). So, I will render this observation; if you dig Konitz’ live trio set Motion (a stone jazz masterpiece if ever there was one) get this recording. While documenting a quartet, like Motion it lacks piano and anything superfluous, in fact. Excellent. A

Lady Wray, “Piece of Me” b/w “Come on In” (Big Crown) Here’s a double-sided winner from one of the contempo soul scene’s very best. I’ve already mentioned this a few times over the last few months in this space (unless I just dreamt it), but here it is again; to my ear, one huge difference between the just okay soul vocalists and the greats is that the former, in straining to make an impression, often falter into overreach (frequently just singing too much) while the latter, through confidence and smart decisions reliably navigate to the sweet spot. This is not the same as making it “sound easy,” though with Leon Michels presiding over the session, Lady Wray needn’t worry about picking up slack. The A-side is loaded with flair; I’m especially keen on the backing voices and the strings. The flip is scaled back, but potent. A-

Nate Young, “Volume Three: Dance of The Weeping Babe” (Lower Floor Music) The third installment in Young’s ongoing 2019 solo series (the prior entries are “Volume One: Dilemmas of Identity” and “Volume Two: Nightshade”) is a satisfying ride down a winding and at-times surreal electronic avenue. Those who know Young as a member of Wolf Eyes might be expecting a noise-oriented affair, but this strikes me as being fairly digestible (in context) as it dishes sounds descended from minimal wave and industrial. It’s kinda impossible for me to not think of Suicide’s influence during “Human Pond” (the one track with vocals), while the looped piano in “People Lose” builds up a wave of cinematic suspense and then lets it subtly dissipate, as if there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place. Overall, fine stuff. A-

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