Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
June 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 June, 2019. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: The Membranes, What Nature Gives… Nature Takes Away (Cherry Red) Springing to life in the late ’70s UK, the Membranes became something of a fixture in the ’80s u-ground scene as post-punk agitators who refused to settle down and smooth things out. They reformed in 2009 for live shows and eventually released the well-received Dark Matter/Dark Energy in 2015, followed by that album remixed as Inner Space/Outer Space the next year. Cherry Red released the 5CD Everyone’s Going Triple Bad Acid, Yeah! (The Complete Membranes 1980 – 1993), one of this writer’s Best box sets picks for 2017, and now the same label is releasing the band’s new music, a 72-minute whole that defies all expectations for what’s likely to be frustratingly categorized as just another “reunion” record.

As founder John Robb is here, alongside Nick Brown who joined in ’82, to call the Membranes reunited isn’t wrong; Peter Byrchmore and Rob Haynes, who entered for the ’09 performances, remain. While a comeback noted as much better than the norm, even more unusual in their current equation is how What Nature Gives… is the group’s most ambitious and expansive release. And I’m not just talking about length, as Dark Matter/Dark Energy reached 68 minutes. No, it’s that half of these 16 cuts utilize the BIMM choir (conducted by Claire Pilling). More importantly, the choir’s addition works as it justifies the comparison to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Sure, spots here settle down to typical aggro, but they are surprisingly few. Shirley Collins and Kirk Brannon (of Theater of Hate) are amongst the guests. Oy! A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit, April is the cruellest month (Blank Forms Editions) Chicago the band are responsible for a higher than usual percentage of used-bin cluttering shit, but their debut as Chicago Transit Authority has its moments. One of them, “Free Form Guitar,” ripped a hole in the known universe of Japanese guitarist Takayanagi, leading him to renounce the inside jazz scene where he had built a sizable reputation and head for the outer regions of free jazz (a cited contemporary is guitar monster Sonny Sharrock and countryman saxophonist Kaoru Abe, with whom Takayanagi played), free improvisation (another peer is sui generis Brit string-wrangler Derek Bailey), and noise (Blank Forms states Takayanagi paved the way for Keiji Haino and Otomo Yoshihide).

Had this been released as planned by ESP-Disk in ’75, Takayanagi’s influence in the years after would’ve surely spread beyond Japan; issued on CD by Jinya Disk in ’91, the man’s formidable heft eventually did have a global (u-ground) impact. Featuring two cuts on side one and the 20-minute “My Friend, Blood Shaking My Heart” on the flip, the record begins in wild abstract territory (Kengi Mori starting out on flute and progressing to bass clarinet, action rightly pegged as Dolphy-esque) and culminates in the utter freakout zone. Likened by the label to Coltrane’s The Olatunji Concert, Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun, and Dave Burrell’s Echo, April is notable for having the smallest band, completed by Nobuyoshi Ino (bass and cello) and Hiroshi Yamazaki (percussion). Takayanagi really ratchets up the mayhem, natch. A

Team Dresch, Personal Best, Captain My Captain, & Choices, Chances, Changes: Singles & Comptracks 1994-2000 (Jealous Butcher) & “Hand Grenade” + 2 (Kill Rock Stars) Formed in Olympia, WA but later based in Portland, Team Dresch effectively belonged to the Pacific Northwest and indeed, the world. Any non-half-assed history of Riot Grrl will feature the band prominently, but it’s important to add that they were a crucial component in the rise in prominence of Queercore, which had roots in the ’80s punk music and zine underground but flourished in the following decade through bands like Fifth Column, Tribe 8, Pansy Division, Mukilteo Fairies, and others. These reissues celebrate the 25th anniversary of the band and mark 50 years since the Stonewall Riots.

By Personal Best in 1995, the band had solidified into the lineup of guitarist-bassist-founder Donna Dresch, guitarist-bassist-vocalist Jody Bleyle, guitarist-vocalist Kaia Wilson, and drummer Marcéo Martinez. For Captain My Captain the following year, Melissa York replaced Martinez. Team Dresch were unapologetically political (e.g. “Fuck the Christian Right!”), which is how it should be, but they were also sharp musicians and strong songwriters, riding waves of well-honed energy with fluctuating levels of pop catchiness. And I’m not talking a rudimentary approach to pop either; “Fake Fight” from Personal Best (there’s an alternate version on the comp) reminded me a little of a punkier Bettie Serveert when I heard it back in ’95, and it still does today.

As a solid second full-length, Captain My Captain was something of a ’90s rarity. I pumped it and Personal Best consistently on CDs in cars in the months immediately following their release, with both blurring together in my memory; singling them out now, I can neither pick a favorite nor delineate superiority. Speaking of compact discs, while both Best and Captain are available in fresh vinyl editions for 2019, the above comp is CD/ cassette/ digital only, though Kill Rock Stars has a fresh clear wax edition of their debut 7-inch, complete with classic picture sleeve. Jake! In closing, Grunge sometimes gets mentioned as an ingredient in the recipe, but to me they integrated it into their whole much better than some of their contemporaries did. Also jake. A beacon of consistency, everything gets an A-.

Airto, Natural Feelings (Real Gone) Due to his work with Weather Report, Return to Forever, and Miles Davis, Brazilian drummer-percussionist Airto Moreira is often and not a bit inappropriately associated with jazz fusion, but that’s not really what’s served up on his solo debut, originally released in 1970 on the Buddah and Skye labels. However, Real Gone claims that the record is a “blend of jazz-funk-fusion and Brazilian tropes”; while jazz is certainly an element, with bassist Ron Carter in the band (along with Airto’s wife, vocalist Flora Purim, guitarist Sivuca, and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, who was in Quarteto Novo with Moreira for their solo eponymous 1967 LP), overall, this record tickles my ear as a much more Brazilian affair.

Backing up my quibble, Dusty Groove’s website mentions that Natural Feelings is “without many fusion touches at all.” Again, this is not the same as saying there is an absence of jazz, though this aspect is rather subtle, enough so that I’m far more focused on the LP as an extension of Música popular brasiliera, a term chosen deliberately instead of Tropicalia, though if you dig Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, and Tom Zé, I’ll venture a guess that you’ll enjoy this, too. While I’m no expert on Airto’s later solo records, I do feel secure in describing this one as fairly distinct in his discography. It’s tastefully executed but not a bit tentative (Carter fits into the scheme very well), Purim’s singing is terrific, and if I could only own one solo Airto LP, it just might be this one. The Hieronymus Bosch sleeve art helps. A-

Blue Glass, Pale Mirror (self-released) Blue Glass is Michael Shunk of Seattle, who also plays in Transient Songs, who’ve been described at least once as psychedelic Americana. But that’s not what’s going on here. Pale Mirror is a decidedly ’80s Brit postpunk thing, with roughly equal emphasis on atmospherics (guitar, keyboards and a crisp rhythm section reportedly executed with assistance rather than self-overdubs) and songs of an inclination fairly assessed as moody. However, if nothing registers as cheery, there are a few up-tempo tunes, in particular late track “Incantations.” This situates Shunk as a perceptive student of his influences, which include Felt, Durutti Column, and The Cure (which really jumps out during “Sleep”). Myself, I hear a little bit of The Church in opener “Don’t Think Twice.” B+

Eleventh Hour Adventists, S/T (Emotional Response) This outfit features Jowe Head, who long ago was in personal faves Swell Maps (and after, Television Personalities). Joining him is Jasmine Pender (aka Rotten Bliss); both sing (more her) as she saws the electric cello and he handles slide guitar, mandocello, and zither; Tiger Lilly Jonas Golland plays some drums and Ravi Low-Beer (who is in Infernal Contraption with Jowe) plucks the bass. Amongst the nine songs are versions of “Handsome Billy” (descended from “Pretty Polly”) and “Crow Jane” (known through its rendition by Skip James), both murder ballads that eschew a well-mannered approach for the realms they fucked. This scenario seeps into the originals, though rather than old-time, the whole just seems not of this time. And that’s great. B+

Susan James, Sea Glass (Sunstone) A Cali native and UCLA grad with a degree in ethnomusicology, singer-songwriter and instrumentalist Susan James debuted on her own label back in 1990. She’s also noted for diverse collaborators including Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and the late Mary Hansen of Stereolab. Sea Glass came out in 2015 and is her most recent effort, but it warrants a mention here through a fresh LP pressing of 300 on translucent aquamarine vinyl with a bonus cut (this appears to be James’ first time on wax, at least in her own discography). With High Llama Sean O’Hagan contributing arrangements (and playing), this is an instrumentally rich affair (“Hey Julianne” is one highlight), but it’s not cutesy, with James’ engaging contempo folk-pop core never overwhelmed. A real grower. A-

Neutrals, Kabab Disco (Emotional Response) There are moments on this debut (portions of “Half Shut Knife” and “You Were Seen”) where the guitars jangle so hard it brought early Wedding Present to mind; there’s no way I’m not going to like that. However, Erika Elizabeth of Maximumrocknroll has made the astute observation that Neutrals’ sound effectively falls betwixt post-punk’s solidification and C86. There are fluctuating levels of a speak-sing vocal quality that kinda nods to the UK DIY scene, but (per Elizabeth again) it’s nearer to the lesser-known bands on some of the higher-profile labels of the period like Creation, Cherry Red, and Rough Trade. The title cut’s mention of a food court continues a snappy Bay Area tradition of songs about shopping centers (I’m thinking of the Mommyheads’ “At the Mall”). A-

Rat Fancy, Stay Cool (Happy Happy Birthday To Me / Solidarity Club) Hailing from L.A., Rat Fancy offer a somewhat Anglo-tinged post-C86 sound (the record was produced by David Newton of The Mighty Lemon Drops) but filtered through a ’90s indie sensibility. Formed by ex-Sweater Girl Diana Barraza, who writes the lyrics, sings them and plays guitar, and Gregory Johnson, initially a bases-covering multi-instrumentalist who now focuses on guitar as Matt Sturgis plays drums and Dan Fernandez the bass, their songs are catchy but punchy, reminding me a bit of a cross between the Primitives and Heavenly. They avoid faltering into a ho-hum approach on their full-length debut; the songs are sturdy, the delivery is engaging, and nice touches like the guitar break in the title track elevate the whole. A-

Seablite, Grass Stains and Novocaine (Emotional Response) Upon first glimpsing this LP’s cover, the first (after a cassette EP) from this Bay Area band, I thought shoegaze. Chalk it up to the blurry photos on top of a blurry photo (plus, the choice to go all lowercase). There is surely a ‘gazey aspect to their sound, though I’m reminded more of Lush than My Bloody Valentine. A big part of this relates to Seablite’s lineup: three gals and one guy (Lush were split two each), with the former providing the vocals. But as the songs unwind, the guitars chime and jangle as much as they hover and haze (“He’s a) Vacuum Chamber” being an exception), with the thrust up-tempo and the individual songs of crisp duration. I keep listening for a glaring flaw and have found none. ‘Tis a very good alb, on coke bottle clear vinyl. A-

Slowness, Berths (Schoolkids) Slowness are a trio also from San Fran, and like Seablite, shoegaze is an element in their sound, but it’s far from dominant in the scheme. Befitting their name, just as prominent are aspects reminiscent of slowcore, with the vocals on Berths (which looks to be their fourth full-length since debuting in 2010) bringing early Low to mind. Slowness aren’t as unhurried as all that, though. After time spent, the listed influence that really jumps out at me is Red House Painters; if someone had introduced this record to me as being affiliated with 4AD in the mid-’90s, I’m guessing I would’ve believed it with no problem. Slowness offer a big sound not far from post-rock (lacking in any indie pop touches), and if six songs in 32 minutes strikes me as a long EP, the results are still satisfying. B+

Norma Tanega, Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog (Real Gone) “Illusion,” from Tanega’s second LP, ’71’s Don’t Think It Will Hurt if You Smile, heard on Anthology’s recent ’70s FM comp Sad About the Times, has the singer-songwriter fresh in my mind. This is her debut, released on Bob Crewe’s New Voice label in ’66. Folks who know the hit title-track only by rep might be assuming the long gap between records pertains to Tanega getting unfairly tagged as a one-hit “novelty” eccentric. These 12 tracks underscore that she was more accurately a folkie, but one whose pop temperament landed her on a mid-’60s package tour that included Gene Pitney, Chad and Jeremy, and the McCoys. A lot of producer Herb Bernstein’s instrumental moves don’t thrill me, but I like Tanega’s songs and this is much more than a curiosity. B

Kim Thompsett, The Hollows (Meniscus Hump) On her second full-length (the first I’ve heard) and vinyl debut, English singer-songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist (guitar, flute, harp) Thompsett does a fine job of conjuring an atmosphere she describes as “archaic,” and with “nuances of Celtic and medieval times.” We’re talking Brit-folk, people. And while I’m just going to say that lovers of Sandy Denny and Jacqui McShee should get in the queue for this, much of this record clearly struck me as having derived from the current moment (albeit not necessarily sounding contemporary in thrust). There are also spots, whole tracks even, like standout centerpiece “Strange Garden,” with its (what sounds to me like) tablas and a mid-song shift into psych guitar burn and flute lilt, that aren’t Celtic or medieval. It’s all nifty. A-

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