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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sarah Pagé, Dose Curves (Backward Music) Harpists aren’t as rare on the scene as they used to be, but theirs is still a fairly uncommon instrument. Some may know Montreal resident Pagé for her playing in The Barr Brothers, who are described as both rootsy and indie folky, but Dose Curves is my intro to her work, and it’s a wide-ranging treat for adventurous ears. There’s certainly an abundance of plucked beauty passages (e.g. closer “Pleiades”), but the opening title-track is reminiscent of cello or viola in an avant context, while “Lithium Taper” uses her homemade pickups and pedal setup to cultivate an appealing ambient field. Notably, the entire LP (in an edition of 222 copies, most of them already purchased) is one unaltered performance, and it delivers a major artistic statement. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Booker T & the MG’s, The Complete Stax Singles Vol. 1 (1962-1967) (Real Gone) Starting with that instrumental R&B cornerstone “Green Onions” and then rolling through 28 more sides up to “Silver Bells,” the flip to their ’67 Xmas 45, this is a smart way to amass this band’s prime work on either CD or 2LP. Featuring Booker T. Jones on Hammond, Steve Cropper on guitar, Al Jackson, Jr. on drums, and either Lewie Steinberg (early) or Donald “Duck” Dunn (joining in 1965) on bass, theirs is one of the most distinctive sounds in the genre, often imitated but never duplicated, partly because others struggled to attain the appropriate measure of tight and lithe. As Stax’s house band, this is only part of their story, but these chapters are essential, all taken from mono sources. A

Gary Numan, Replicas – The First Recordings & The Pleasure Principle – The First Recordings (Beggars Arkive) To commemorate the 40th anniversary of these two seminal and groundbreaking post-punk electronic pop-rock albums, Beggars is issuing the early recordings of both on 2CD and 2LP, Replicas (co-credited to Tubeway Army) on sage green wax and The Pleasure Principle on orange. Note that neither set includes the actual released albums, so if you don’t have those, you still need ‘em. And anyone interested in the abovementioned styles does need ‘em (they were both reissued by Beggars in 2015). With this said, it’s difficult for me to rate either of these sets as must-haves, but they are both wholly worthwhile documentations of works in progress. If you love the finished LPs, you’ll probably want ‘em.

That each set includes a Peel Session does substantially increase the value, though both have been previously released on wax. Plus, Numan was creating rapidly in this era, and these collections magnify his development (leaving Tubeway Army behind in the process) without getting bogged down with the ephemeral. These ears retain a special affection for the Replicas material, mainly because there are still traces of the band’s punk beginnings in an overall attack that’s sharply focused on the future, but it’s Pleasure that captures him in full flower, and this dive into its gestation wafts a pretty sweet aroma. It should also be mentioned that the 2CDs offer extra stuff, in the case of Replicas just a third early version of the title track, but Pleasure has six (and six unreleased cuts, two of which are on the wax). B+/ B+

Allah-Las, LAHS (Mexican Summer) Based in L.A. with LAHS their fourth LP, Allah-Las describe their sound as a culturally Californian experience, and with that idea, I’ve nary a quibble. Think garage, surf, jangle, folk-rock, and psych: suffice it to say that if you treasure your copy of the 4CD box Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets: 1965-1968 and aren’t allergic to contempo bands, this combo is solidly in your bag. But as the members met while working at Amoeba, they can also be considered a byproduct of a discerning “collector” sensibility, i.e. they aren’t a rigidly retro dress-up thing as they successfully  incorporate non-’60s influences, notably here in the Portuguese-language ’70s George Harrison-ism of “Prazer em te Conhecer” and the drum machine-driven Tropicalia-laced “Royal Blues.” A-

Binary Canary, iterative systems (Carrier) This CD is the third release from Binary Canary, the Chicago-based duo of electronics specialist Ted Moore and saxophonist Kyle Hutchins, and it’s a decidedly avant-garde excursion, though don’t go assuming it’s merely skronk meets techno abstraction. I mean, there is some of that, particularly in “metal,” but the cumulative range (and therefore, the musical weight) of the seven pieces (of widely varying length, from under a minute to nearly 15) is much greater. They describe the contents as “work for feedback saxophone, feedback cymbal, tubes, no-input mixer, and eurorack,” and while it can be a challenging ride, I wouldn’t necessarily call it formidable. Passages are atmospheric, even. Fans of “classic” European and newer electroacoustic improv should take note. A-

Whettman Chelmets, Long Read Memories (Self-released) Joplin, MI-based Chelmets describes his music as ambient drone post-rock; this CD (with a limited edition tape on the Aescape Sounds label) is the eleventh in a string of releases spanning back to 2012 (there could be more, as his prior 2019 release Doesn’t Remember​.​.​.​. revisits [remixes and rearranges] recordings made between 1999-2003). His self-assessment is astute, though I don’t think I would’ve made the post-rock connection on my own. I will add that Chelmets’ stuff feels descended from the Industrial underground in the period before the genre was overtaken with dance beats. A big diff is that the sounds here aren’t overwhelmingly dark or attitudinal. Instead, ambient and drone hit home, along with general drifting and elements of collage. B+

Coven, Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls & Blood on the Snow (Real Gone) Some remember Coven for the 1971 smash hit “One Tin Soldier,” also known as the theme to the film Billy Jack. Others recall the band for the first of these reissued LPs, an occult-satanic themed album from ’69 offering “Black Sabbath” as an opening track and including in their lineup a bassist named Oz Osborne. Yup. But don’t go thinking of proto metal, as Coven’s sound blends hard rock and psych elements into a stew that’s firmly late ’60s in thrust. Singer Jinx Dawson blends throaty gal belting with pop qualities to help Coven stand out (reminding me a bit of the Shocking Blue along the way), but as the record unwinds it becomes apparent that its main import is historical and thematic rather than purely musical.

On infrequent revisits over the years, this impression has held up. This is not to say that Witchcraft is bad, because it isn’t. It has a few duff moments and I can’t imagine anybody other than an 8th grade wannabe Satanist listening to the closer “Satanic Mass” (not a song, but a recording of a supposed black mass) more than once, but it also has a handful of okay tunes. So does Blood on the Snow, their third record from ’74, which is definitely situated as an odds-beater. While the sleeve persisted in playing up the occult angle, the Shel Talmy-produced songs tap into the bright middle ground where guitar crunch, vocal punch, strings arrangements and anthemic pop maneuvers aren’t a bit incongruous. Not a jaw-dropper, but I’d say fans of ’70s pop-rock bombast should investigate. B-/ B

Gold Dime, My House (Fire Talk) Andrya Ambro of Gold Dime used to be half of the excellent Talk Normal, an outfit that extended the possibilities of post-punk and ’80s u-ground NYC-centric rock into the 21st century without a hitch. This second effort by Gold Dime is the first where Ambro isn’t the full-on director of operations, as it’s described as a “more collective effort” featuring bassist Ian Douglas-Moore and guitarist John Bohannon. Still, as it plays her vocal and rhythmic presence places her in the foreground, so it’s impossible for me not to think of this as Ambro’s band, which is how it should be. While altering the post-No Wave severity that was part of Talk Normal’s thing, My House is still plenty noisy (a la Sonic Youth) and the Laurie Anderson-esque singing and speaking is highly appreciated. A-

Harlem Gospel Travelers, He’s On Time (Colemine) Vocalists Thomas Gatling, Asher Bethune, Stephen Pedley, and George Marage work in the African American gospel quartet tradition of the Swan Silvertones, The Swanee Quintet, and the Soul Stirrers (the term quartet merely distinguishing the size of the groups from the larger choir tradition). They came together through the Harlem youth program Gospel for Teens (Gatling joined four years early at age nine). While quartet gospel is sometimes vocals only, there is a backing band here featuring drummer Aaron Frazer (of Durand Jones & The Indications), bassist Jake Leckie, and guitarist Eli “Paperboy” Reed. Although housed in a cool Savoy Records-homage sleeve, the music respects/ extends the quartet sound without registering as a calculated throwback. A-

Medicine, Scarred for Life (Drawing Room) This band has a lot of history, with founder Brad Laner the drummer for the terrific and overlooked Savage Republic. Initially signed to Creation, Medicine’s shoegaze-noise pop ended up on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings as the group cameoed in and were on the OST to The Crow. Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon was later a member. For this edition of the band’s reincarnation, original singer Annette Zilinskas returns; she was a founding Bangle and member of Blood on the Saddle, leaving Medicine before any recordings were made. Scarred for Life is composed entirely of covers, mostly from the ’70s and many poppish. Leaning into their sound helps the record avoid registering as a trifle. At times, it’s kinda like a shoegaze Apples in Stereo, and that’s fine by me. B+

V/A, Rub a Dub Revolution: Early Dancehall Production from Bunny “Striker” Lee (Pressure Sounds) Vinyl loving Jamaican music fans should be all over this one, a double set from the reliable Pressure Sounds label (the color wax appears to be sold out, at least from the source, and there is also a 2CD available). The title describes the contents of this set pretty effectively, but the promo notes add that the reopening of the dancehalls in the late ’70 found the artists included here recalibrating their sounds to local audiences rather than a potential global market (as roots reggae and to a lesser extent dub had developed a worldwide listenership by this point). This isn’t a massive change (there are in fact a few dub versions here), but an increased focus on a powerful vocal presence is tangible. Very fine. A-

Very Good, Adulthood (Self-released) When a release is likened Americana and 21st century indie, I tend to steer far fucking clear. Both genres are mentioned in relation to Adulthood, which is work of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and vocalist Sean Cronin with assorted help, but they are ultimately just two in a list of reference points that is diverse to the border of intriguing. After jumping in, I’m not a bit disappointed. To narrow things down, I’m reminded a smidge of Sufjan Stevens if he were more heavily impacted by Captain Beefheart and oddball-folk than Philip Glass. Now, Cronin doesn’t really sound like the Captain (few do), it’s just that he’s not afraid of getting out-there. There are also distinct avant-pop and chamber-pop tendencies, which is where the Sufjan gets underscored. At times quite striking. B+

Wet Tuna, Water Weird (Three Lobed) This is LP two from guitarists Matt Valentine and PG Six, both ex-Tower Recordings; the first, Livin’ the Die, came out early in ’18, with a certified fuckton of live CDRs released between. This set features help from John Moloney on drums, S. Freyer Esq. on drums and percussion, and Jim Bliss on bass, and the sound is highly indebted to the Grateful Dead. As those CDRs prominently feature versions of “I Know You Rider,” I don’t think this is really a disputable observation, nor is that the outfit is attracted to the Dead’s sometimes disdained late ’70s work; it’s all right there in the groove-tastic “Disco Bev.” This reminds me of a few local bands I once knew, but WAY cooler, as I don’t have to be drunk, stoned, or tripping to enjoy them. Why? Because Wet Tuna is sly. So are you. A-

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