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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Roots, Things Fall Apart (Geffen / UMe / Urban Legends) One of the best records of 1999 and a hip-hop cornerstone gets a deserving deluxe reissue here, spread across six sides of vinyl with sides five and six holding Questlove-curated bonus tracks. There’s also a 24-page booklet with essays from Black Thought and Questlove (who also delivers track-by-track liner notes) and photos. And that’s just the standard version. The collector’s edition offers the three LPs on clear vinyl with a die-cut slipcase with all five covers as interchangeable lithos, plus a bonus sixth cover and foil stamp numbering. And the music hasn’t gotten subsumed in the trappings, as this isn’t an attempt to gussy up a pretty good record but is rather a wholly fitting presentation for a masterpiece.

The Roots’ fourth full-length really drove home their organic reality as not just a crew or collective but as a band. That is, they were and remain an outfit utilizing live instrumentation. On their Wikipedia page, there is a quote crediting them as “hip-hop’s first legitimate band,” which strikes me as wrong. I mean, I don’t think Smokin’ Suckaz wit Logic was very good, but I wouldn’t call them illegit. I completely agree that The Roots are hip-hop’s first great, or maybe better said, the style’s first non-gimmicky band (I’ll add that Guru’s Jazzmatazz is accurately described as a project and a collab). But the thing (well, one thing) that makes Things Fall Apart outstanding is that it never loses its handle on hip-hop’s core essence. It simply deepens the genre’s possibilities rather than trying to be something else. A+

Bro David, Modern Music from Belize (Cultures of Soul) Even if I didn’t care for this record, which is the latest in this label’s reissues of global groove music, I’d probably hold onto a copy due to the sleeve, as it offers an illustration of a lion with a rather confused look on its face. Confused why, exactly? Because there is a person standing on its back with a globe in each hand. Bluntly, that’s the kind of thing I like to have around the house. But what’s nice is that I need not worry about keeping an LP that’s main interest is visual, as Modern Music from Belize is both an enjoyable listen and an insightful (and succinct) dip into the work of Bredda David Obi, who is a new global music discovery to me and I’m guessing to most folks reading this. It’s the dedication of this label that has brought this music into a brighter light.

This is not just a taste of Bro David, whose recording career began with No Fear in ’84, followed by Cungo Musik in ’87 and We No Wa No Kimba Ya in 1990, it’s an intro to the danceable pop of Belize, a Caribbean country often overlooked when focusing on the region’s music during this era. With this said, the seven tracks included here, which are taken from the three LPs above (all pricey in original form, so obviously folks beyond Culture of Soul’s operator Deano Sounds are hip to this stuff) isn’t a radical departure from the more well-known strains of the Caribbean; there’s a whole lot of reggae, in fact, plus a general vibe of positivity that never gets overbearing, in part because the record’s low-budget reality insures against slickness. Bro David called his synthesis kungo (or cungo) and it’s a treat. A-

ATMIG, Wishes (Self-released) Hailing from Detroit, ATMIG, which stands for After the Money Is Gone, pressed this, their full-length debut (they issued a prior 45 in 2017), at Jack White’s joint. It came out back in January, and unless I overlooked prior correspondence, it was sent to me just the other day. I listened immediately thereafter and am glad as the four-piece’s music blends a folky indie sensibility (I thought a few times of Iron & Wine) with older strains of the folk thread (occasionally Brit-tinged). What’s pretty beneficial to ATMIG’s approach are the songs where they work themselves up to an indie rock intensity, the male-female harmony, the spots reminiscent of Mountain Goats, some likeable instrumental flair, and a song titled “Elliott Smith.” Overall, both accomplished and promising. B+

Candy, “Super-Stare” b/w “Win Free Love” (Relapse) Candy are a Richmond, VA-based band described as purveyors of metallic hardcore. The a-side alternates slower grinding passages with up-tempo rage as the vocals are expectedly gruff and pissed-off throughout. Of the song, the band says that “as it unravels, the listener grows oppressed by the great weight of the music around them and gradually loses confidence in orderly civilization.” Well, after a few spins, my viewpoint on civilization hasn’t been radically altered, but I do appreciate the hyperbole (and maybe I just need to listen a few more times). The flip is a short blast of raw-throat HC of the contemporary variety, or at least I guess so, as I’m not exactly well-versed in the genre’s more modern manifestations. It sounds fine to me, if not amazing. B+

Desert Sharks, Baby’s Gold Death Stadium (Substitute Scene) Brooklyn’s Desert Sharks have been compared to Sleater-Kinney, L7, and Veruca Salt, but on their full-length debut they’ve already bested the latter two names in terms of quality. The songwriting and vocals of bassist and lead singer Stephanie Gunther are a big reason why; she falls squarely into the emotive tradition of the aforementioned acts while still managing to sound fresh for 2019. She combines with guitarists Stefania Rovera and Sunny Veniero and drummer Rebecca Fruchter to hone a sound that’s heavy yet fleet. And if largely straightforward and often familiar (a few of the selections here definitely remind me of prior tunes), the attack is consistently inspired so to resist cliché. For a debut, this is undeniably major. B+

Enob, La Fosse aux Débiles (Cheap Satanism / Atypeek / Tandori) The accompanying promo text dates this LP to May of this year. It’s the second full length (plus two prior 10-inch EPs) from the French unit of guitarists Arthur De Barry and Nicolas Moulin, bassist Yakoo Desbois, and drummer Clement Huet; De Barry and Desbois sing. Or perhaps better said, they scream and shout. Enob stands for Experimental Noise Over Bathroom, which should provide an inkling into what’s transpiring here, though they have a loose handle on rock dynamics (and precision) that reminds me a little of some of the acts on the Skin Graft roster. And I don’t want to insinuate that Enob are entirely about aural aggression and abrasion; they also offer some moody tension as “Amour” plays around with a pop motif (and there is singing). B+

Dori Freeman, Every Single Star (Blue Hens Music) For starters, Galax, VA-based country singer-songwriter Dori Freeman has a superb voice. She crafts the sort of tunes that can retain their essence with a plain approach, but through her delivery they really come alive. This isn’t to imply she’s a ball of histrionic fireworks. To the contrary, her singing is pretty but robust and finely controlled. Now, folks who know about Galax might be assuming Freeman inhabits a deep roots zone, but her work is more immediately inspired by Emmylou Harris and later Linda Ronstadt (I’d say the ties to Appalachia remain under the surface). But don’t peg her as a throwback, for in a world burdened with faux country crud, Every Single Star is a breath of fresh air. Teddy Thompson produced again and sings on “2 Step.” A-

Shuta Hasunuma, Oa (Northern Spy) I dug 2 Tone, Hasunuma’s collaboration with his Japanese countryman U-Zhaan, which came out digitally on the Commons label in 2017 and was given a LP/ CD release early the following year on Birdwatcher. That release had nothing to do with Brit revivalist ska but was instead succinctly categorized as experimental ambient. Reading Hasunuma’s artist statement for Oa, an EP available digitally and on cassette, it’s clear he is an artistically busy guy, with these four tracks taking shape immediately after a move from Tokyo to NYC in 2017. They lack a concept, which is unusual for Hasunuma’s work, but that’s not the same as the music being without meaning. The electro-environmental experimentation here is abstract but not harsh. One could even call portions relaxing. A-

Inoyama Land, Commissions 1977-2000 (Empire of Signs) Those who enjoyed Light in the Attic’s Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 will have heard a track from Inoyama Land, which is Makoto Inoue and Yasushi Yamashita. They debuted with the Haruomi Hosono-produced Danzindan-Pojidon in ’83 and then jumped into the budding environmental music scene (that is, creating soundtracks to accompany physical spaces, instillations and events) in their home country, though further releases followed (most and maybe all of them up to this retrospective weren’t released on vinyl). Inoyama Land’s approach avoids sliding into New Ageist and purely Ambient zones, and that’s sweet. Along the way, lots of subtly unusual stuff happens, and that’s even sweeter. A-

Paracelze, Ptérodactyle (Cheap Satanism / Get a Life!) With a release date at the end of this past March, this one’s been out for a while, and if it didn’t offer something special, I’d probably just let it pass. But Paracelze, a Swiss unit, are the most distinct and varied of the three bands released (or more aptly, co-released) by Cheap Satanism in this week’s column. Jamasp Jhabvala plays violin and electronics, Alexis Hanhart plays bass, pocket piano and electronics, and Dominic Frey handles the drums, glockenspiel and krin. There is no guitar (though there are times where the sounds flowing forth are reminiscent of the instrument) and no vocals. Along the way there are subtle hints of avant-prog, a whole lot of trio sharpness, and plenty of sweet racket. Folks into the Ipecac and Cuneiform labels should take note. A-

Red River Dialect, Abundance Welcoming Ghosts (Paradise of Bachelors) These songs, which comprise this London band’s fifth album and second for PoB, were recorded across four days in August of last year, shortly before songwriter-guitarist-lead vocalist David Morris departed for a nine-month meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. As Morris’ soujourn is over, the record is being released and live performances by the band are imminent. While this background is illuminating, it also lends insight to an aura of spirituality, or perhaps better said, connectivity, in the band’s work here, which can be described as Brit folk-rock-descended but with a discerning singer-songwriter bent that validates the comparison to Talk Talk. Impeccably played and suitably powerful. A-

Shantih Shantih, Someone, Anyone? (Wild Honey) Based in Atlanta, this outfit’s vocalist-rhythm guitarist Anna Barattin is a native of Italy, and when she sings, she adds a touch of worldliness to this, their second LP. Her bandmates are Julia Furgiuele (drums, vocals), Anna Kramer (lead guitar), and Nikki Speake (bass), and they’ve crafted a sound, heavily impacted by the ’60s, that’s tough enough to perk up the ears of garage heads while dishing loads of melodicism spiked with gorgeous harmonies. It’s a sound lacking in calculated retro moves, which is doubly impressive as there are hints of psych (pop) and elements of twang in the equation. And instead of relying on thematic standbys, they offer “Suzie Wong” (referencing the ’57 novel by Richard Mason) and “Rossellini.” Overall, a hard record to fault. A-

VI!VI!VI!, II (Cheap Satanism / Tandori / Riot Not War / La République des Granges…) Released back in June, this is the newest of the offerings from Cheap Satanism included this week. VI!VI!VI! were formed in Lille, France in 2011 by guitarists Maxime Manac’h and Guillaume Dubreu and drummer Sylvain Delanoé; drummer Ciro Martin and bassist Xavier Poittevin joined later. Along with the rhythmic focus and increased general heft, there is instrumental doubling (Manac’h plays hurdy gurdy) and no vocals. There’s a definite post-Industrial feel, with all that drumming bringing Swans to mind a bit, but also a few spots where Krautrock is articulated, which is understandable as Manac’h is in the current lineup of Faust. New record III (album titling is not a band strong suit) due in December, with sax and singing. A-

Weeping Icon, S/T (Fire Talk / Kanine) This NYC outfit is composed of Sara Fantry on guitar and vocals, Lani Combier-Kapel on drums and vocals, Sarah Reinold on bass, and Sarah Lutkenhaus on synths and noises. Self-described as experimental noise punk, all the listed contributors have prior experience in bands (ADVAETA, Lutkie, Mantismass, Warcries, Water Temples) as they deliver a very strong debut LP. When the descriptors “experimental” and “noise” are combined, they often suggest the abstract, but even though seven of this record’s 14 tracks are interludes (designated by the use of parenthesis) alternating throughout the sequence, Weeping Icon have a solid handle on song form with a recurring theme of coping with life in the digital age. Recommended for fans of Sonic Youth, Talk Normal, and Savages. A-

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