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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Kongo Dia Ntotila, 360° (Pussyfoot) BBC DJ and noted rocker Tom Robinson has praised this Kongo-Jazz group as being “…as good as anything you get coming out of Africa…” Absorbing their second LP, it’s easy to understand his (and others) enthusiasm, and by the finale, I’m won over myself. However, it should be noted that Kongo Dia Ntotila have honed their thing to an audience-thrilling precision; this is music custom-built for outdoor shows in the sunshine. That they have done this without weakening the music’s power by becoming too calculated (or too “tight”) is borderline remarkable. Instead, there are a series of instrumental surprises, like the deft guitars in “Mbongo” and the free jazz horn flirtations in the title track. Miraculously, this baby finishes the trip with a full tank. A

SPAZA, S/T (Mushroom Hour Half Hour) SPAZA is a band with no fixed personnel brought together by the label. As their first release, it features a half-dozen musicians (for the closing track “Stametta Spuit: Invocations,” seven) from Johannesburg, South Africa. The band’s name derives from the makeshift neighborhood stores common to the region, and also from the gallery where this album was recorded live in one take, with the music completely improvised. If the circumstances of creation insinuate a lack of focus, wipe those notions away right quick. Rhythm is a constant, though the record is as vocally driven (often with contempo enhancements) as it is groove-based. Additionally, synths, electronics, and FX blend with upright bass, trombone and electric violin (again, with FX). Altogether, this is a stunner. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia (Analog Africa) Loaded with inventively rhythmic selections from Northern Brazil in the ’70s and the city of Belém in particular, this offers two LPs worth of goodness unlikely to have been previously heard by all but the most diligent of sound excavators. A big reason for the success here derives from variety thwarting monotony, which is a credit to compilers Samy Ben Redjeb and Carlos Xavier but is more deeply linked to Belém’s reality as a port city; as people of assorted nationalities arrived, they brought the sounds of their home regions with them (this is the nature of the port situation; think New Orleans), which then combined with Belém’s already considerable diversity. Of the 19 tracks, not a single one disappoints. That’s impressive. A

Band Apart, S/T (Crammed Discs) For those looking to procure as much No Wave and scene-adjacent material as possible, this reissue is a must, and the quality is consistently high that pickier consumers with an interest in the style should also give it some serious consideration. It features the entirety of this Franco-American duo’s debut 1983 EP and five tracks from the follow-up full-length (on the vinyl; the CD and digital offer two additional tracks). What NYC poet and performance artist Jayne Bliss and Marseille-based musician and producer M Mader came up with was very much of its time, but it has aged surprisingly well, which is no small feat given how they lean toward the sophisto (rather than the disruptive) end of the subterranean ’80s spectrum. Originally issued on Crammed, and so it remains. A-

Rob Burger, The Grid (Western Vinyl) Although he’s currently living in Portland West, composer and multi-instrumentalist Burger is a vet of the NYC scene and was also part of Bay Area happenings as a member of Tin Hat Trio. He has many credits, has scored a bunch of films and has issued records under his own name; this is his third and first since City of Strangers in 2009. Neo-classical has been mentioned as a descriptor of what Burger does, and while The Grid’s opening cut “Alternate Star” reinforces the connection, it’s only a component in his overall scheme. Indeed, much of this record dives into kosmische territory to highly enjoyable effect. “Souls of Winter” features vocal assistance from Laurie Anderson), and The Grid branches out productively from his two prior full-length CDs on Tzadik. A-

Care of the Cow, Dogs’ Ears Are Stupid (Mental Experience) Care of the Cow, also sometimes stylized as C/O the Cow, were a New Wavy art-rocking experience hailing from Chicago; they self-released a 10-inch all the way back in 1975, when they were a four-piece. By the point of their ’81 LP I Still Don’t Know Your Style they’d slimmed down to the trio of Victor Sanders, Christine Baczewska (later X Baczewska), and Sher Doruff and remained such for their final release Dogs’ Ears Are Stupid, until now available only on cassette. The Liquid Sky vibe comes on so strong in opener “Chinese Food, Part 1” that one could easily peg them as New Yorkers of the era, but by song’s end (and a quotation from Les Brown’s “Sentimental Journey”) they are onto something different, if still kinda NYC-like.

As the tracks progress, Care of the Cow’s electronic tendencies (by this recording, everyone was doubling on some form of synth, drum machine or effects device) help to bring their overall sound into focus. The artiness is palpable and refined to the point where, to my ear anyway, the references to post-punk and DIY are accurate but somewhat lowkey. Another way of putting it; Dogs’ Ears Are Stupid is pretty sophisto, and it’s unsurprising that their influences apparently included Fripp, Joni Mitchell, Carla Bley, and Pauline Oliveros. But don’t get me wrong, as there are parts of this that will definitely squeeze arty-wavers in their special place; and for that matter, “Oceans in My Ears” dishes a platter of pop-reggae that reinforces that it was unequivocally 1983. There is also a bonus track. B+

Ben LaMar Gay, JayVe Montgomery, Freddie Douggie: Live on Juneteenth (International Anthem) This cassette is part of a steady stream of previously unreleased back-catalog albums that were the foundational source for Gay’s Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun, which shared the top spot on my Best New Releases of 2018 list with his labelmate and fellow Chicago resident Makaya McCraven. While many International Anthem releases explore the cutting-edge of contemporary jazz, this recording of “sonic ceremonies on Shackle Island, Tennessee, Juneteenth some years ago” travels deep into pure, beautiful post-category sonic terrain and with intermittent voices that accentuate the soulfulness and the social-political themes, which come to a head in finale “Slave to Employee.” Raw and fascinating. A

Al Manfredi, Blue Gold (Now-Again Reserve) Manfredi is the father of hip-hop producer Exile; so sayeth the terse description on this album’s Bandcamp page. Now-Again goes into deeper detail, and the reissue includes a booklet that’s loaded with info. In brief, Manfredi was in the ’60s garage outfit Lost & Found, whose only 45 (sequenced at the end of this set’s side two) apparently goes for major bucks these days. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, Manfredi’s path in music was curtailed, though he did cut an LP in ’73, the contents of which comprise side one here, with unreleased stuff filling out the flip. Things start out in mellow Al Stewart-ish territory, but what’s clear just as quickly is the sharpness of the playing; Manfredi could’ve been swooped up by a major. Thankfully, he wasn’t.

It’s worth noting that a 2LP/ 2CD edition of this record is available as part of the Now-Again Reserve subscriber series. Also, Blue Gold is not the original title; the reportedly scarce private press was eponymous, with a different cover. This version was overseen by Manfredi’s son, and while I haven’t heard the original, I think it’s safe to assume he didn’t botch up the job, as this is one of the better private press rescues I’ve heard in a good bit, though it’s non-cracked (or even strained) nature (but still unique) will require at least moderate levels of appreciation for a laidback ‘70s state of mind. I will add that parts of LP one (for folks not interested in subscribing) do deviate from this general template. And as a sure sign of quality, the booklet features extensive notes from Ugly Things’ Mike Stax. A-

Chuck Mead, Close to Home (Plowboy) Mead is a Kansas-native who’s been country-rocking since the mid-’90s, first as part of the group BR5-49 and then on his own for a string of albums, of which this CD (I’m going to predict that vinyl is on the horizon) is his fourth. Mead is also a fount of knowledge on country and Memphis roots in particular, so Close to Home’s Sun Studios origin isn’t an instance of an alt-country also-ran searching for authenticity. While opener “Big Bear in the Sky” is appropriately loud and ‘billied-out, much of what follows lands in territory between the honky-tonk and the kind of songwriting that once regularly made the country charts; “Billy Doesn’t Know He’s Bad” tackles its subject with unapologetic commitment reminding me a bit of Glen Campbell or even ’70s Elvis.

You might be thinking pop crossover, and that’s not wrong, but the sound of electric piano in “My Baby’s Holding It Down” and “Better Than I Was (When I Wasn’t So Good)” reminds me a bit of soft-pop’s pervasive influence in the latter portion of the ’70s (if you didn’t think soft-pop extended to the country music of the era, that is wrong). It shouldn’t work, but does, probably because Mead’s strengths, namely songwriting (in a better world, the title track here would be a huge hit), singing, and good instrumental judgement allow him to take chances. That directly relates to how he can utter overused phrases like “see ya’ wouldn’t want to be ya’” and “won’t you come and get you some” with no damage to his overall thing. “Shake” opens with a swampy guitar line and is a late highlight. A-

Jérôme Minière, Une Clairiere (Objet Disque) The output I’ve heard thus far from this French label, particularly Grand Veymont and Midget!, has been impressive, while radiating decided Euro art-pop qualities. This is the most recent item they’ve sent my way, accompanied by a long PR piece in French that I considered dropping into a translator but didn’t, in part because the music fits into the aforementioned scenario quite well, dishing a blend of electronics and pop with a fluctuating retro aura that could please fans of Stereolab. Plus, the idea of retaining some mystery while absorbing Une Clairiere’s was appealing. “La beaute,” a lengthy blend of speaking voice (a recurring tactic across the LP), Krautrock and canned symphonics, is a highlight. I dig the swagger of “Les somme des jours,” too. A-

Tom Nehls, I Always Catch the Third Second of a Yellow Light (Now-Again Reserve) Originals of this ’70s private sell for hundreds, partly because 900 copies were destroyed in a basement flood (real life bad luck overemphasizing that of its title), leaving 100 or less in existence. Another reason it commands high coin is its stature as an exemplar of the “Real People” “genre,” a zone that for some has become synonymous with private press records (Al Manfredi above is but one LP complicating this reduction). The third thing; this was made by a high-schooler but is football fields away from rudimentary garage-isms. Openly influenced by The Beatles but also Zappa and Tolkien, that this isn’t a quagmire of highfalutin ineptitude is amazing. Like the Manfredi, this also has an expanded subscription edition. A-

One of Hours, When You Hear the Music, It’s Yours (Out-Sider) One of Hours formed in ’60s Lexington, KY and until now were noted for their two 45s (both for the Chetwyd label), the second of which has landed on a few comps. After a name change to Dandelion Wine, they cut an album for the Liberty label, but the deal fell through. This reissue is the result, pressed in 2019 from a first generation copy of the master (the tapes were lost in a warehouse fire) belonging to member Bob Willcutt. Cut in ’67, it’s the sorta thing that wouldn’t exist without Sgt. Pepper’s, though the record doesn’t sound like The Beatles. Instead, it comes off as exactly what it is; a garage band, with substantial crooner tendencies, going full-on trippy. It’s not a mind-melter, but it is enjoyable and much more than an artifact. B

Onesie, Umpteenth (Dadstache) This review could’ve appeared a few weeks ago, but upon scoping the band name in an email subject line, I quickly surmised “children’s music.” Partly due to that genre, like comedy-rock and ludicrous hybrids like thrash-polka, hanging pretty low in my personal esteem, and also because I get a lot of emails, I initially read no further. But hey, persistence in correspondence paid off in Onesie’s case, as they made it clear that their collective thrust blends ’90s indie sounds (bordering at times on Alt-rock) with power-pop and the occasional “big” (often glammy) rock move. They’ve chalked up a lot of comparisons to historically huge names, and I can hear most of ‘em, but while this goes down easy, I’m not blown away, mainly because Umpteenth is just far too wide-ranging. B

Chelique Sarabia, Revolucion “Electronica” en Musica Venezolana (Pharaway Sounds) This one beats some tough odds to deliver a worthwhile experience. To begin, Venezuelan composer and arranger Sarabia had the idea of imbuing trad and folk material from his home country with a “modern touch,” and employing tech derived from the concept of the Moog. This isn’t the sort of endeavor known for its subtlety and taste, and furthermore, the fact that the initial ’71 press of the LP was a Christmas giveaway to “customers, employees and friends” of the Shell Company would seem to spell disaster, or at least the word FREE scrawled on the side of a cardboard box stuffed full of schmaltz. Sarabia never falters into “too much” though, even if it’s never not clear that it’s all an exercise in exotica. B+

Jane Weaver, Loops in the Secret Society (Fire) A whole lot of LPs reexamine the contents of the makers’ prior stuff (though problematic second efforts often get skipped over), but this is most often done with some level of distance so as to avoid accusations of repeating oneself and being creatively spent. By now you might be guessing (if you didn’t know already) that Loops in the Secret Society is Jane Weaver’s third full-length. That’s right, and part of why it’s so refreshing is the directness in revisiting her The Silver Globe and Modern Cosmology LPs. Half of Loops’ 22 cuts are variations on tracks from those recs (and attached EPs); right away, the motorik bedrock remains strong, but there’s a whole lot of spacy folky disco pop. One song sounds like the Space Lady’s caterpillar going full butterfly. Sweet. A-

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