Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2020, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Squarepusher, Be Up a Hello (Warp) When I learned Tom Jenkinson (the Englishman who is Squarepusher) had a new record out, I was surprised, excited and worried all at once. Surprised, because there hasn’t been a Squarepusher record in five years, excited because Jenkinson was amongst the first artists (along with Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada and a couple more) to turn me around to electronic stuff, and worried because such a long hiatus can foretell a diminishment of inspiration. Well, my fears were misplaced, as this set is a total success. Much of this is like video game music marinating in caffeine and adrenaline, but the anthemic pop angle in opener “Oberlove” is a cool twist. “Detroit People Mover” blends Nintendo and Moroder and offers contemplative regality. A-

Ross Goldstein, Timoka (Birdwatcher) Composer Goldstein’s latest continues the progressions established on his prior LP, 2018’s The Eighth House, specifically a change in direction away from psychedelia. 2017’s Inverted Jenny struck me as an orchestral pop record, and so, a transitional work, perhaps. Timoka definitely has moments, like right out of the gate with “Obsidian Cat,” that one could describe as orchestral (a digital version of the Mellotron is being used), but pop it is not. Instead, like The Eighth House, it exudes a soundtrack-like sensibility, in part through the record’s non-vocal nature, but also because Goldstein’s work is reminiscent of developments in creative film scoring from the ’60s-’80s, but without coming off like a faux OST. This last observation is very important to Timoka’s success. A-

Jason McMahon, Odd West (Shinkoyo) Here’s the solo debut of a Brooklyn guy who’s been in a lot of bands, most prominently The Skeletons (not the rootsy and defunct Missouri Skeletons), and if a first effort on his own, in large part due to experience it lacks in the tentative, which is doubly impressive as it finds McMahon, already an accomplished guitarist, diving into the deep end of the pool that is  advanced fingerpicking technique, and with gusto. I said this was doubly impressive, but the achievement grows as McMahon offers more than Fahey-disciple moves. There are certainly flourishes of string glisten descended from the more ornate end of the American Primitive spectrum, but Odd West reminds me more of post-rock, and I really dig how McMahon integrates vocals into his scheme. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Jolie Holland, Esconidida (Cinquefoil) When I heard that Holland’s second album from 2004 was getting the first-time on vinyl treatment (through her own Kickstarter), I danced a little jig. It’s quite the special set, and in some ways her solo debut, as prior effort Catalpa was a demo that burst out beyond its original intention through sheer force of quality. Esconidida, first released by ANTI (who also gave Catalpa a wider pressing), avoids even a trace of a letdown; in fact, it’s even better, and a sterling example of quality in the Americana style. A major reason why has to do with her lack of politeness/ affectedness as she rewrites “Old-Time Religion” as “Old Fashioned Morphine” (and references “Billy” Burroughs) and drops a “motherfucker” at the end of “Do You.” A classic. A

The Ah, Mere Husk (NNA Tapes) The second full-length from the project of drummer Jeremy Gustin is my introduction to his work, and it illuminates his intent as being much more focused upon sonic (re)assemblage of captured (occasionally non-musical) sounds blended with live instrumentation rather than any kind of straightforward rhythmic fiesta. Not that rhythms, often from instruments recognizable as being in service of creating this element, aren’t present; they are, but the end product exudes songlike foundations with an electronic sheen (that’s not too polished). The whole isn’t especially reminiscent of any particular influence, but in “Watermelon Tears,” it’s like The Books met up with Dan Deacon in a novelty shop to fixate upon the rows of canned laughter. And so, a fiesta of mirth, dig? B+

Andras, Joyful (Beats in Space) Aka Andrew Wilson, Australia’s Andras launches from an electronic dance template, though it’s less about beat-slamming floor shakers and more about the precision and smoothness of the assemblage. Joyful is still very much about forward movement, but I’d say it’s more concerned with contemplating than it is gyrating. That’s alright by me. But when I say contemplation, I’m not suggesting this record is heavy. To the contrary, it’s pleasurable, not weighty, with elements of humor even (not something I normally associate with electronic stuff), and a sonic consistency throughout. For one example, there’s the recurring use of piano (deriving from a sentimental pop place rather than classical or jazz), and for another, non-trite sampling that highlights seriousness of intent. B+

Dakota Suite & Quentin Sirjacq, The Indestructibility of the Already Felled (Schole) Dakota Suite is the long-running and highly prolific project of singer-guitarist Chris Hooson. Under the moniker, he’s issued prior collabs with French pianist-composer Sirjacq, This one, recorded in 2017 during a Japanese tour, found the circumstance of their surroundings impacting the results (four of the 11 tracks have Japanese titles) as it reaches for tranquility, beauty and peacefulness. They manage a firm grip on all three throughout, but with a subtle edge that underscores shared experimental backgrounds. While Sirjacq’s piano can instill a neo-classicist vibe, it never settles into the genre’s standard mode. There is a variety of instrumentation and Hooson occasionally sings. Both lend an almost post-rock feel. A-

Barbara Eden, Miss Barbara Eden (Real Gone) By this late date, unless you’re a particular type of ’60s enthusiast, you’ll quite likely suspect this to be some kind of kitschy celebrity cash in with a specific appeal. The front cover will deepen this hypothesis, making it plain that Eden was the titular character on ’60s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie playing opposite Larry Hagman (later JR Ewing on Dallas). But as Eden was a conservatory-trained singer, Miss Barbara Eden is a much more straightforward affair oozing a modicum of ’60s gal-pop charms. Make that ’60s gal-country-pop charms, conducted and arranged by Bill Justis. It all unfurls like a pleasant but no big deal sorta scenario until “Bend It” brings the sitars and dishes a nifty novelty tune for the finale. Too bad there’s not more of that (this is her only album). B

hackedepicciotto, The Current (Potomak) A duo composed of Alexander Hacke, he a founding member of German Industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten, and Danielle de Picciotto, she a singer in Die Haut, a collaborator of Gudrun Gut, and a contributor of visuals to Crime and the City Solution (alongside Hacke), hackedepicciotto are focused and assured on this, their fourth album. Although it is the first of those releases I’ve heard, my long and extensive relationship with Hacke’s main outfit lends some familiarity to the proceedings. However, de Picciotto’s input, manifested through an ambience that is at times symphonic and often electronic, radiates much deeper than surface coloration. The Current is also a thoughtful work that if occasionally melancholy offers hope for the future. A-

Dan Rosenboom, Absurd in the Anthropocene (Gearbox) I’m gonna make it plain and say that when I’m hipped to a record that blends jazz, electronic elements and rock, my instinct is to steer clear, in part due to past horrific attempts at blending these genres. The problem isn’t that the styles are incompatible but rather that the musicians responsible for the mingling frequently falter in the execution. This gets to the guts of Fusion, but as I’ve taken to reevaluating that development in jazz, I approached this set with willing ears and after a few spins, have regretted it not a bit. Importantly, trumpeter Rosenboom is seriously skilled, and while this is apparent, he’s not forcing the fact to the front my mind, which I greatly appreciate.

After a while, dishing out boisterous flurries on trumpet can be like watching someone repeatedly slam-dunk basketballs on an empty court, and I stress the vacancy, as when a person’s blowing in this manner, they are rarely listening to their fellow players. Instead, Rosenboom reminds me of Lee Morgan, and by extension, his compositions can recall the more accessible side of ’60s Blue Note. However, the stated non-jazz influences of Soundgarden and Squarepusher are subtle in the mix (I mean, nothing here particularly sounds like either of them) and truly integrated rather than slapped on like a diversity bumper sticker. Another influence more felt than heard is Zappa, There are also parts stirring a memory of my middle school music teacher who was really into Maynard Ferguson. B+

Scalameriya, “47024” (47) Whole lotta dancy electronic stuff this week. He has one prior full-length, Hubris, on the Genesa label from 2016, plus unsurprisingly, a certifiable fucking ass-ton of EPs, many of them, like this 4-track 12-inch, on vinyl, but this is my introduction to Serbian DJ Scalameriya, and it leaves a positive impression. The first cut, “Tainted Voltage,” has an aggressive techno sound that kinda reminds me of the scenes in certain action films (of a particular vintage now, I guess) where the cops infiltrate an underground club in hopes of locating a missing girl (or something similar). That’s OK, but I prefer the spots reminding me of Kid 606. The quality rises from there, and peaks with side two’s utterly slamming finale, “Neonorb.” I love it when that happens. Altogether, a pretty unrelenting affair. A-

V/A, Back from the Canigó: Garage Punks Vs Freakbeat Mods Perpignan 1989-1999 (Staubgold) The ten years covered here commence at the end of the decade where retro garage dawned in earnest, and as the Pyrenees mountain and city in the title of this 2LP featuring 14 bands makes clear, it was truly a global phenomenon. The mention of punk will lead some to anticipate raw chargers that go beyond the realms of fuzz, and I’d say all but those absolute sticklers (with frankly unrealistic expectations) will be pleased with the results. As the first LP spins, it can get a little difficult to tell the bands apart, which I actually consider to be a plus, as the “all the bands in that scene sound the same” putdown usually foretells as niche worth investigating. Listening further finds the subtle difference taking shape.

The contents offer more than gravel-voiced ragers, as Les Buissons throw in some horn pomp suggesting toytown psych. Psiquàtric Xaïs also get druggy as they deliver an aggressive pounder. Others take the aforementioned gravel in the throat approach into full-on rasp-croak territory; Toxic Farmers, I’m looking at you. They’re not alone, though. Now, I once had a pretty low tolerance for neo-’60s garage stuff, but I’ve lightened up a bit as I’ve gotten older (maybe they just defeated me), but here’s the deal; the two cuts from The Lightning Circus Band and the Boom Boom Beat (that’s one outfit, I think) are nearer to Raw Records than Nuggets, and that means they’re not playacting move-motions. In a battle of the back-to-back live “Gloria”s, The Ugly Things take it by a nose over Les Gardiens Du Canigou. B+

V/A, Mothership (VOITAX, Midnight Shift) The first collab between these labels, VOITAX based in Berlin and Midnight Shift in Singapore, is a 3LP of techno/ electronica with a persistent progressive allure, even when the stuff leans into the realms of club bangers, which is a fair percentage of what’s here. Mirroring the label team-up, every track in this set, totaling 15 in all, is the byproduct of an artist pairing, and that none of them are duds is on the borderline of amazing. Another thing; lengthy collections of stuff intended for club consumption can make me feel like I’ve been up in the joint for an hour too long and just want to go home (but I already am home, which is a terribly perplexing situation to be in). This comp never puts me there, and that’s worthy of high praise. I do like the dystopian stuff best. A-

Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Express Yourself (Real Gone) Everybody knows “Express Yourself” (well, everybody should know it, as it’s one of the ’70s finest soul grooves), but as the decade opened Wright and his band were firing on all cylinders, though opener “Love Land” could give the impression that they were heading down an especially smooth (but satisfying) path. The title of “I Got Love” could reinforce this idea, but it raises the funk quotient significantly, and matters just roll from there. Further strengthening the album is ample range, as “High as Apple Pie” radiates some Sly Stone vibes. It’s second part, “High as Apple Pie Slice II” stretches out on side two to over 17 minutes without testing patience (a real feat, that) as it possibly impacted the direction of George Clinton. A-

Youbet, Compare & Despair (Ba Da Bing!) This is the debut from Nick Llobet, a New Yorker by way of Davie, FL, who began by releasing some of his music to Bandcamp in what registers as almost an afterthought to a hobby (or what Ba Da Bing describes as a therapeutic outlet). Those songs intrigued a handful of notable folks, namely Katie Von Schleicher, Julian Fader, and Adam Brisbin, who’ve assisted in the shaping of this set. What I dig is that it doesn’t seem like Llobet is just fucking around (I mean, my time is valuable) but with enough of a skewed edge to situate the proceedings as a bedroom pop experience (though not lo-fi, as the recording is crisp and big) rather than just another indie singer-songwriter thing. There’s also an occasional fragility that avoids the twee. Quite promising. B+

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