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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Sequoyah Murray, Before You Begin (Thrill Jockey) Murray emerged earlier this year with the 4-song “Penalties of Love,” and this long-player fully delivers on the promise of the EP (only one cut, the title track of the prior release, is featured on Before You Begin). Initially, there was talk of Arthur Russell, and with the presence of cello in “Blue Jays” and “Let’s Take the Time,’ that’s still a relevant point of observation, though much more pertinent is Murray’s blend of soul/ R&B/ hip-hop/ trap and experimentation spurred from the Atlanta free-improv scene. Yes, this experimental side can swing us back to the topic of Russell, but the approach is thoroughly contempo (but occasionally utilizing vintage gear). I also dig how Murray plays around with a croon that recalls ’80s UK synth pop a bit. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Osondi Owendi (Hive Mind) By the time he’d released this utter beauty of Nigerian highlife in 1984, Osadebe had already chalked up a multi-decade career, having initially made his mark in ’59 with the hit “Lagos Life Na So So Enjoyment.” In fact, this record was something of a strategic stylistic adjustment for Osadebe, made in reaction to the upsurge of rock and funk on the Nigerian scene. The bandleader slowed it down, stretched it out (the LP features two side-long tracks), smartly borrowed contemporizing aspects from the rock and funk styles that had momentarily displaced him at the forefront of Nigerian music, and then dubbed this revamping oyolima. For anyone who digs the highlife style, Osondi Owendi is an absolute necessity. A

Rain Parade, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (Real Gone) This 1983 debut, the only LP made by the band’s original lineup, is a cornerstone of Paisley Underground architecture, as crucial to understanding the breadth of that movement as the debuts from the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, The Bangles, and the Three O’Clock (then called The Salvation Army). Featuring the brothers Stephen (bass) and David Roback (guitar, notably later of Mazzy Star), Matt Piucci (guitar), Eddie Kalwa (drums), and Will Glenn (multiple instruments), the band’s approach blended aspects of the L.A. scene (Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Love) with pop-angled psych (rooted in Nuggets and early Floyd rather than San Fran) to superb effect. If you’re into neo-psych and aren’t hip to Rain Parade, here’s an easy fix. A

Lee Hazlewood, 400 Miles from L.A. 1955-1956 (Light in the Attic) Discoveries of early, embryonic recordings by departed artists regularly reek of barrel-scrapings gussied up for completists and the manically obsessive, but these early home demo recordings of a youthful Hazlewood made in Phoenix, Arizona as he was attempting to infiltrate the music industry are insightful and a non-stop pleasure across four sides of vinyl (there’s also a deluxe bundle where the wax is gold and is accompanied with a silkscreen print, a travel journal, a shot glass and drink coasters). Lee is considerably less eccentric here, with the voice still deep and low but not as distinctively so as he later became. That’s alright. But much better than alright is the opportunity to hear Trouble is a Lonesome Town in early form. A-

Astral TV, Travelling the Circuits (El Paraiso) Astral TV consists of the excellently named Rasmus Rasmussen (of Aerosol and Causa Sui) and Keith Canisius, and this is their second album following 2017’s Chrystal Shores (there was also a slightly earlier cassette in an edition of 50 that’s contents largely overlap with the debut). The duo specializes in synthesizer soundscapes delivered sans vocals and with a decided retro-futuristic bent, with drifting and repetition frequent. Befitting their name, kosmische leaning into spacy early New Age is an adequate synopsis, but the vintage gear (and they have a lot of gear) can conjure thoughts of the BBC Workshop, ’70s Buchla excursions, and even the trippier side of Lothar & the Hand People. Again, no vocals. This is mainly just really cosmic, man. A-

Bethlehem Steel, S/T (Exploding in Sound) Comprised of guitarist-singer Rebecca Ryskalczyk, bassist Patrick Ronayne, drummer Jonathan Gernhart, and newest member guitarist-singer Christina Puerto, Bethlehem Steel hail from Brooklyn not Pennsylvania, with Ryskalczyk having written this ten-track album across two years, her efforts aided by the addition of Puerto. Specifically, it helped Ryskalczyk to delve into subject matter she describes as uncomfortable as pertaining to men and toxic relationships. The record is a concise but weighty listen recalling ’90s indie rock’s stronger moments; it could’ve easily made the rosters of Matador or Merge or Kill Rock Stars or Touch and Go (as much of the disc is quite heavy). I mention labels as Bethlehem Steel don’t remind me of any band in particular. That’s sweet. A-

François J. Bonnet & Stephen O’Malley, Cylene (Editions Mego) Through SunO))) and other endeavors I’m quite familiar with the work of O’Malley. Just the opposite is the case with Frenchman Bonnet, who has extensive material released under the project name Kassel Jaeger. O’Malley handles the guitar here while Bonnet is the studio sound tactician, and their collaboration is intended to instill “a mood similar to the stillness found following despair.” That’s from the press release, which additionally quotes the liner notes of Joseph Ghosn stating that Cylene “is about chaos being summoned and ordered.” This should hopefully express that the duo creates not a racket but an aura that intermingles tranquility and heaviness. It’s the latter quality that makes this considerably more than another Ambient experience A-

Eye Flys, Context (Thrill Jockey) If you know from whence the band name derives, then you likely have an idea as to what Eye Flys are about; if you don’t, it’s the first song on the Melvins’ Gluey Porch Treatments. But y’know, minus the explicit reference, I’m not sure if I would’ve necessarily connected the two, at least not that quickly. Part of it has to do with the raw-throat rasp-beller of Jake Smith (of Backslider), which reminds me of more contemporary practitioners of the metal-punk hybrid. Courtesy of Spencer Hazard (of Full of Hell) and bassist Keven Bernsten (of Triac), Eye Flys are undeniably sludgy, but they can also fly forth pretty capably as drummer Patrick Forrest (also of Backslider) brings the thud. After numerous plays the ‘90s noise-rock angle really comes to the fore, and that’s cool. A-

Dan Friel, Fanfare (Thrill Jockey) Dan Friel is the impetus behind Upper Wilds. Last year that project released Mars, and while checking it out for review the tweaked vocals brought Dan Deacon to mind. I mention this because the first track on this latest solo endeavor had me thinking of Deacon as well, but not due to vocals, as there aren’t any. It’s just that buzzy-gnawing electronic grind, which in “Opening Ceremonies” offsets what sounds like an attempt to create theme music for ’80s TV shows, and not the good kind, plus a fleeting nod toward Joan Jett. So, Spiderman of the Rings meets Tim & Eric, maybe. Zonked-assed video game music also enters into the equation. Then a horn section comes in and really fucks shit up. The freak flag here is flying stiff in the wind like it was dipped in water and then frozen. A-

Ghost Funk Orchestra, A Song for Paul (Colemine) This LP, the debut of bandleader Seth Applebaum’s NYC-based outfit, came out a few weeks back, but it’s strong enough to not let it slip through the cracks, so we won’t. With the group name and track titles “Walk Like a Motherfucker,” “Broken Boogaloo,” and “Isaac Hayes,” one could formulate a rough idea as to the music’s general thrust (the album title is in tribute to Applebaum’s grandfather Paul Anish), but it’s so much more than just another large-scaled soulful-funky thing. While the record exudes some definite soundtrack vibes, this is not Applebaum’s fallback position. It was during “Skin I’m In” (roughly three-quarters into the record) that it struck me that A Song for Paul connects Daptone with Broadcast (the UK band), and that’s downright swell. A-

Hater, “Four Tries Down” b/w “It’s A Mess” (Fire) Anyone, when the promo emails come in (and boy howdy, do they come in) mentioning an upcoming single, if my interest is sparked I then need to check to see if there is an actual physical release (preferably a 7-inch) attached. But with the email hipping me to this release’s existence, I didn’t need to check, because it mentioned the 45 right there in the subject line. A time-saving maneuver! And as this single’s release coincides with the Malmö, Sweden-based band’s first U.S. tour, of which they are in the midst, it’s a stone cinch they will have some at the merch table. Smart! I dug the band’s Siesta from last year, and these two songs are a fine continuation of it, branching out from the sophisto side of ’80s indie pop, but not too sophisto. B-side is the winner. A-

L’Epee, Diabolique (A Recordings) When I first read about this one, the first LP from the band of Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre), Emmanuelle Seigner (model, actress and singer in Ultra-Orange), and Lionel and Marie Liminana (of The Limiñanas, making L’Epee a legit supergroup), I saw the title and thought, “hey, this bunch digs French director H.G. Clouzot’s famous film of 1955.” But the name actually references a different movie, Mario Bava’s cult action flick Danger: Diabolik of ’68, which is a better fit with L’Epee’s yé-yé-kissed neo-psych. Also of note: Seigner is married to Roman Polanski (having acted in a number of his films) and Diabolique’s closing track is “Last Picture Show.” I mean, the cinephilia is rampant on this thing. As has been the case with A Recordings’ recent output, I dig it. A-

Secret Shame, Dark Synthetics (Portrayal of Guilt) Ashville, NC’s Secret Shame is a five-piece; that’s Lena on lead vox, Ryynikki on lead guitar, Billie on rhythm guitar, Matthew on bass, and Nathan on drums, with Lena, Matthew, and Billie all doubling on synth. No last names here, people. This is their debut, available on CD and cassette (plus digital, natch) and it’s been described as post-punk, but also goth-punk, and after a few listens I easily prefer the latter descriptor, as it really gets to the point of what they do pretty well across the set (brief at 26 minutes). Both sides of the hyphen are important. While a lot of straight goth stuff can hover and hang like your drunk uncle trying to spook trick-or-treaters on Halloween night, this has real drive and heft. Dealing with serious subjects, it’s not a bit cartoony. B+

V/A, This is Mainstream! (Wewantsounds) Formed in the mid-’60’s, Mainstream was the label of industry vet Bob Shad. As the ’70s dawned, he chose to scratch his jazz itch by exploring the music’s commercial and often downright funky potential. Indeed, this retrospective 2LP puts the funk immediately up front via Saundra Phillips’ emphatic and hard-hitting “Miss Fatback,” though this and Almeta Lattimore’s soul nugget “These Memories” are the two cuts here not actually produced by Shad. December’s Children’s funk-rock burner “Livin’ (Way too Fast)” and Jay Berliner’s Blaxploitation soundtrack-infused cover of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” help add some beneficial range to a collection that was assuredly going to be hit-and-miss with me, as I prefer my jazz to be largely unfiltered.

Of the more relaxed numbers, I slightly prefer the early morning summertime wakeup vibe of Dave Hubbard’s flute and Fender Rhodes fiesta “T.B.’s Delight” over the extended late-evening wind down feel of Hal Galper’s “This Moment.” Blue Mitchell’s “Blue’s Blues” (with guest harmonica from John Mayall) is a ’70s extension of the guy’s increasingly accessible work for Blue Note, and Buddy Tate gives Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” a pop-jazz groove gospelization. The impulse for covers (with an emphasis on Withers) is strong, as Afrique’s “Kissing My Love” bests (even with its goofy dated synth-keys) Maxine Weldon’s soul-infusion of Bread’s “Make It With You.” My fave track isn’t Pete Yellin’s exploratory “Bird and the Ouija Board,” it’s the post-Ramsey Lewis action of Reggie Moore’s “Mother McCree.” B

The Vulcans, Star Trek (Real Gone) A truly unusual selection from the Trojan Records vaults, and a first-time vinyl reissue. It’s speculated that the idea behind Star Trek was to come up with a sorta reggae Switched On Bach as producers Joe Sinclair, Webster Shrowder, and Des Bryan put the label’s rhythm tracks in the hands of Ken Elliot, who is described as a prog-rocker formerly of the group Second Hand. And I agree that it diverges from the assumed Carlos-ian objective, and that there’s nothing Spock-like about it beyond title and moniker. But Dracula does show up. At times, it’s like library music with a band that’s really good at playing reggae. Other stuff, like side two’s opener “Journey Into Space,” is considerably stranger. Not a mindbender, but surely interesting enough to hold up to repeated play. B+

WesdaRuler, Ocean Drive (HHBTM) This is the debut LP from Athens, GA-based MC and beat-maker Wesley Johnson, though he was creating instrumentally for a while before his voice entered the scenario. Listening to Ocean Drive, this fact is perceptible. It’s not that his spiel is underdeveloped, but rather that he connects with a mixture of introversion, melancholy, and alienation (but with a lack of the tentative), a combo that places this squarely in the alt-hip-hop camp, but with a crucial distinction that it connects as best suited for late-night bedroom listening. This shouldn’t suggest that it sounds like Ocean Drive was recorded in a bedroom, because it doesn’t. It’s just that upon listening, the label’s mention of Young Marble Giants makes total sense. If you know and love YMG, I’m sure you’ll understand. A-

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