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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Slumberland Singles Subscription Series |  These are the freshest two installments from this 30th anniversary project, copies of which will also be available in stores.

Wildhoney, “Naïve Castle” b/w “Kiss Me” Formerly from Baltimore and now on the West Coast, Wildhoney have dialed back their reported earlier shoegaze orientation a good bit. Well, on the A-side here, they’ve dialed it back a whole lot, as the tune is chiming Sundays-esque pop that could easily fit on mainstream radio except for the late boost of distortion that makes clear their ‘gazey sensibility hasn’t disappeared entirely. There’s also a roughly two-minute ambient kosmische finish that’s readymade for Hearts of Space. I like it, but, ahem, speaking of pop radio, I’m far more taken with a version of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me” that reduces the original’s wispiness in favor of budget tech and an amply hazy finale. Avoiding the cutesy pop cover impulse, it completes a winning circular combination. A-

Smiles, “Gone for Good” b/w “This Boy” Smiles is a Bay Area proposition, though I agree with the assessment made in Slumberland’s PR notes that in its power-pop approach the 45 resonates like a byproduct of the Southeastern USA; that means Big Star, but I also hear their mention of Dwight Twilley. By extension, “Gone for Good” is destined to give adorers of the Teenage Fanclub a considerable thrill, so folks who fit that description should step right up to this platter whether or not they’re inclined to check out the entire subscription series. Barely breaking two minutes, the flip is not a gyp but is instead just the right dose of guitar-pop goodness, reinforcing this platter as in the lineage of 45s that’re bought for a buck and after played at home make you feel like you won the lottery. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: House Guests, My Mind Set Me Free (Shake It!) After working with James Brown, where they were called the Original JB’s, and prior to becoming part of Funkadelic as led by George Clinton, there was the House Guests, featuring brothers William “Bootsy” and Phelps “Catfish” Collins on bass and guitar respectively, Frank Waddy on drums, Clayton Gunnels on trumpet, and Robert McCollough on sax. The cut a couple of 45s in 1971 (one as House Guests Rated X), which are compiled on this set along with subsequent work from the groups Bootsy, Phelps & the Complete Strangers and Bootsy Phelps and Gary (as this group presaged Bootsy’s Rubber Band, I’m guessing the third named is Gary “Mudbone” Cooper).

From the opening title track complete with its lift from the Mission Impossible theme, this is as imaginative as it is funky, with the modest production values keeping things from getting too slick. The early stuff leans nearer to Brownian groove density, though “What So Never to Dance” has a celebratory atmosphere that will be great for late-summer parties. I don’t have recording notes handy (notably, this is the first time this stuff’s been legitimately reissued), but it seems to be following a roughly chronological progression, inching toward Funkadelic-style wildness along the way, and while “Be Right Back” had me momentarily worried that (as on many comps) the late stuff here was going to be of lesser interest, “Say Something Good” swings matters upward in a big way as the set rolls to a sweet finale. A-

V/A, Bedford-Stuyvesant Youth in Action Community Corporation Talent Hunt Winners (Big Crown) A reissue as enjoyable as it is historical. The ten songs here (plus a short introduction by Reverend Horace Tyler) are the byproduct of Youth in Action, Inc., a grant-funded community organization that achieved numerous goals including a musical talent contest. Having chosen a song to cover, with a focus on soul/R&B, the winning groups were subsequently backed in the studio by the Thrillers Band, who get to strut their stuff via instrumental theme song as faux crowd noise is mixed in to replicate the ambiance of the original performances. The subsequent cuts document a surfeit of skill in ’60s Bed-Stuy; in fact, I’d say this would fit quite nicely into a listening rotation of ’60s regional soul comps. A-

Chris Child + Micah Frank, Tape Pieces Vol. 1 (Foil Imprints) Portland, MI-based Child is known for his electronic output as Kodomo, though he’s also the winner of Emmys. Sound programmer and electronic composer Frank lives in Brooklyn where he runs the Puremagnetik imprint. This release isn’t on Frank’s label but rather Child’s Foil Imprints, released physically as a cassette in an edition of 50 with the first 20 accompanied by a signed and numbered poster of the cover art. Hot damn. In an attempt to get outside their loop-based comfort zone for this collab, Child and Frank nixed the digital audio software and utilized a 4-track, a synth, a Rhodes and a piano, plus layering, rerecording, and integrated field recordings. Relaxing, intriguing and too short, but they’ll probably feel the same about this review. B+

De La Noche, Blue Days, Black Nights (Get Loud) Well, this was certainly not what I was expecting. To elaborate, this is Ivan Howard, who many perhaps know as a member of Gayngs and as a collaborator of Justin Vernon and Kanye West, but before that he was in the Rosebuds with Kelly Crisp. Circa their 2003 debut The Rosebuds Make Out, they specialized in power-pop that was heavy on the keyboards and woah-woahs, but Blue Days, Black Nights is definitely not that. Had I listened to the professed soft-rock of Gayngs or Howard’s work as Howard Ivans or even later Rosebuds, I’d probably have been better prepared for what Blue Days, Black Nights unambiguously is, which is funky pop, and I’m not talking alt-funky or art-funky, I’m just talking straight-up but with clear smarts how it approaches the style.

I should add that Howard was the last to join this band featuring his friends Robert Rogan and Brian Weeks. I’ll further mention that there is a whole fucking lot of smooth-ass saxophone across these cuts, which points to a retro angle that could’ve been a deal-breaker here. I say could’ve been, as De La Noche connect as sincere; this isn’t ironic mustache music, and while I said it wasn’t art-funky, it’s easily described as sophisto-funky (’80s Roxy Music and Sade are both namechecked). Appropriately, the record closes with “Champagne,” though “Blue” establishes a groove that should cultivate some dancefloor sweat. Weather that’s in the club or your basement, who knows? Who cares? “Gold” also dishes substantial throb-momentum, but “Lush” is vaguely trip-hoppy and “Stars” synth-poppy. B+

Stella Emmett, Admirer (Self-released) Stella Emmett is Stella Kortchmar with some assistance, mainly from co-producer Mike Dvorscak. Kortchmar has described the contents as “IkeaCore,” which essentially sounds like a mixture of bedroom pop, synth-pop, soft-pop, and pop-R&B. That’s a lot of pop. Initially, a fair portion of this set just bopped and bounced along without making much of an impression. My reaction kinda goes along with the stated IkeaCore concept of music that’s simultaneously deeply personal (subsequent attention to Admiral’s lyrics supports this) and suitable as background sound (like when you’re buying furniture). It’s easy listening about heavy topics, which isn’t a novel idea, but this does offer a few fresh ways of exploring the duality. Things get moodier along the way, which is good. B

Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Primal Prayer (ORG Music) Canadian/ American singer, composer, and transgender activist Glenn-Copeland originally self-released this music in 2004 under the name of Phynix, where it seems to have flown way under the radar, though as the recent reissue of two self-titled LPs from 1970 (one lacks Glenn in the eponymous title) and the electronic album Keyboard Fantasies from ’86 have sparked considerable interest in his work, it’s fitting that this one would follow. The sounds don’t really flow (and this record is very much about flow, rhythmically and spiritually, as the title should suggest) as contemporary to century 21, though the insert states it all derives from between ’02-’04, making Primal Prayer both distinctive and appealingly out-of-time.

Glenn-Copeland’s blend of dancy rhythms, soulful and operatic vocals, and New Ageist sensibilities including rainforest flutes frankly put me in the mind of the late ‘80s-early ’90s. It was the era when some folks stuck upon the bright idea of blending loping hip-hop-influenced rhythms with chanting monks, diva expressiveness, and perhaps snatches of spoken word. The thing about that stuff was that a high percentage of it registered as being on immediate autopilot (for some, this was part of the appeal), but Primal Prayer never gets stylistically inert, with its closing track as surprising as its opener. There is cohesiveness throughout, though this is, to his credit, a considerable distance from the jazzy folk of his 1970 LPs. I think I dig the early stuff best, but Primal Prayer is a swell progression from his ’86 alb. B+

Johnny Moped, “Hey Belinda!” b/w “Hiawatha” (Damaged Goods) Johnny Moped is a band, and it’s also a man (Paul Halford). Both the band and the man are certified oldsters, and as this 45 plays this fact becomes apparent; there’s audible maturity in the singing and in their bold approach to an unabashedly classic Brit punk style. The band’s visage on the Reservoir Dogs homage/ spoof picture sleeve will leave no doubt. It may seem that mentioning this in every one of my Johnny Moped reviews is unnecessarily dwelling on the subject, but I don’t see a way around it. But maybe a better point is that many considered Johnny Moped to be also-rans right out of the starting gate. That they can manage a worthy roar in 2019 is admirable. A-side is from their latest, the flip a redo from The Search For Xerxes. B+

Jonas Munk & Nicklas Sørensen, Always Already Here (El Paraiso) Munk co-operates El Paraiso and is in numerous bands, most notably Causa Sui. He’s previously released records by Sørensen’s trio, with Munk serving as producer for three, so this collab’s comfortable vibe is unsurprising. The instruments are guitar and synth, the objective is an exploration of minimalism, psychedelia, and electronic music, and the stated influences range from Reich and Riley to Eno and Manuel Göttsching. Due to the instrumental makeup and the number of hands involved, this reminds me of Eno’s work with Robert Fripp, but without ever really recalling either of their ’70s LPs. In terms of direct similarities, this is much closer to kosmische, but with subtle minimalist undercurrents, yes. The drifting patterns never falter. A-

Alexander Noice, NOICE (Orenda) A composer, guitarist, producer, and leader of bands, Los Angeles-based Noice is known for dishing punky art-rock in trio Falsetto Teeth, but he’s also played with a bunch of serious jazz cats. He’s also released a solo electronic album. This span of stylistic territory, along with the PR’s handful of cinematic references, undoubtedly sparked my interest, as this CD served as my introduction to Noice’s work. In a run-on nutshell, this is kinda like Deerhoof if Dustin Wong joined and brought a pair of killer female vocalists with operatic tendencies with him, and they intermingled the jazzy side of ’80s downtown NYC, avant-pop, and a persevering angular intensity. What can fleetingly feel like mayhem is compositionally robust and executed with precision.

Noice’s guitar mastery ranges from Montgomery to Van Halen to Halvorson (and as stated above, Wong) to name just a few, but maybe what’s most impressive is how he’s no showboat while not shying away from intricacy. To the contrary, he jumps right into wild bursts of complexity but regularly cedes the spotlight to singers Karina Kallas and Argenta Walther, who are crucial to the music’s success, and saxophonist Gavin Templeton, who along with Noice’s occasional fleet note runs, establishes the jazz fortitude. Bassist Colin Burgess and drummer Andrew Lessman handle the rhythmic task with panache. This is art-rock, but it’s joyous rather than severe. A vinyl pressing would make quite a few of my days. A

Denise Rabe, “Manifesto” (Stroboscopic Artefacts) That techno-maven Rabe is based in Berlin is not exactly a shocker, though she didn’t migrate there from some far-off locale; she was born in the ’80s in the small German town of Bielefeld. Influenced early by hip-hop followed by house and drum & bass, she ended up on the darker side of techno. All this info is gleaned from her bio, as this is my introduction to her work, but this 10-inch backs up her established profile. Along with dark, I was going to add arty but relented, mainly because Rabe doesn’t lose track of the foundational components of techno. The A-side opens with the long-familiar echoing thump-throb, and mid-way through a looped bit emerges that begins to take on the ambiance of a mechanical laugh. I dig, and the two on the flip don’t falter. A-

The Rails, Cancel the Sun (Thirty Tigers) Although it’s their third album, this is my first taste of The Rails, which is James Walbourne and Kami Thompson. He’s noted for playing with Son Volt, Ray Davies, The Pogues, and The Pretenders. She’s the daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson. Hers is unsurprisingly a strong voice, which strengthens her songwriting talent; she’s also handy with an acoustic guitar. He also sings and is a jack of many instruments, though what stands out for me here is his biting electric guitar tone. Cancel the Sun is being described as The Rails’ most rocking affair, though to my ear they sound very comfortable, and as the edge and heft only enhances the beauty of Thompson’s voice, I hope they persist in this mode. It’s not all rocked-out, however. Some folk angles arise, and they sound just fine. A-

Esther Rose, You Made It This Far (Father/Daughter) “Always Changing,” the opening track from Rose’s second album, starts out as folky solo strum, the kind that I wouldn’t’ve been surprised to hear on a homemade CDR circa 2005, though as the song progresses the band emerges and establishes an Alt-country situation. As the drums hit hard, it’s an appealing turn (pedal steel is also prominent), and it carries over into the fiddle-driven “Handyman.” Unlike too much recent Alt-country (spanning into Americana) this isn’t overly smooth or polite; there’s maybe even a country-punk thing happening (“Five Minute Drive” namechecks Against Me, Julie Ruin, and Minor Threat), but the midsection of the record lands roughly betwixt Rosanne Cash, Jolie Holland, and Josephine Foster. That’s nice. A-

Rey Sapienz, “Mushoro” (Hakuna Kulala) Hailing from Nord Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, producer Rey Sapienz is currently based in Kampala. The press release relates that he’s dedicated to offering “weirdly abstracted Soukous and Kalindula.” He has a few prior releases out, but this 6-song EP (available digitally and as a limited-edition pro dubbed cassette) is my intro to his work. While I’m no expert in the Soukous and Kalindula styles, they have crossed my ear more than once, and these tracks get pretty far afield from what I’ve heard. As part of a wave of Congolese artists who are drawn to the artistic potential of current electronic music, Rey Sapienz is definitely out on the fringe (i.e. the cutting edge), but multiple listens make clear he’s searching rather than subverting, and that’s alright. A-

The Snivelling Shits, “Bring Me the Head of Yukio Mishima” b/w “Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi” (Damaged Goods) Last December The Snivelling Shits got back together to play support for a Johnny Moped (see above) show in London. This recommencement occurred after the reissue of the band’s retrospective compilation I Can’t Come. Now, the Shits probably aren’t the 15th (or even the 50th) name that comes to mind when thinking about or discussing UK punk (they made a big impression of Stephen King, however), but giving this 7-inch in an edition of 200 on color vinyl (brown, natch) a few spins still brings a smile to my face, in part because I gravitate toward punk obscurities with little critical rep, but also because in pure punk terms, these tunes get the snotty, shitty, spit-soaked job done. B+

Sunny War, Shell of a Girl (ORG Music) No matter which LP serves as an introduction to the work of Los Angeles-based Sunny War (born Sydney Lyndella Ward), she makes an immediate impression as an exceptional guitarist. Not far behind are her appealing vocals. Her combined prowess is well-suited for the singer-songwriter foundation explored on her fourth album (not counting a collab with Particle Kid, who also contributes here). Having emerged in a folk-blues mode, this continues her progressions into highly accessible territory that can remind me at times of Tracy Chapman. At a few points things can get a little too accessible, but the hand drums, clean guitar tones and warm singing in opener “Shell” brought both Curtom Records and ’70s Joni mind. There’s in fact much Mitchell-like erudition here. B+

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