Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February, 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Arbor Labor Union, New Petal Instants (Arrowhawk) Some will listen to this record, Arbor Labor Union’s second after 2016’s I Hear You for Sub Pop (well, third if you count Sings for You Now, released in 2015 under prior name Pinecones), and find the connections to punk and hardcore dubious. The reason comes down to Arbor Labor Union’s sound, self-described as “Cosmic American Music.” Now, those doubting folks likely consider the punk milieu and hippiedom to be largely incompatible, rather than distinct but complementary offshoots from the same countercultural impulse. The band additionally describe their thing as CCR meets the Minutemen, but on a purely musical level New Petal Instants reminds me of the Meat Puppets circa Up on the Sun, and that fantastic. A-

Jeff Parker & The New Breed, Suite for Max Brown & “Max Brown Part 1” b/w “Max Brown Part 2” (International Anthem / Nonesuch) Guitarist Jeff Parker is surely best known as a member of Chicago’s foundational post-rockers Tortoise. Debuting with them on wax via 1998’s classic TNT album, he helped to accentuate the group’s jazz angle, with a clean tone and dexterousness that one could associate with the classic post-bop string masters but totally at home in what was often a decidedly Fusion-descended context. Well, the jazz influence is strong on his latest LP, which includes an interpretation of Joe Henderson’s  “Black Narcissus” (titled “Gnarciss”) and a reading of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain,” but there’re enough category defying passages to spark the interest of the old Tortoise fanbase.

But I have a feeling many of those folks have kept abreast of Parker’s activities, as this is his seventh solo album (or “as a leader,” in jazz parlance), and his second for International Anthem, though this one inaugurates a label partnership with the folks at Nonesuch. For those unfamiliar with International Anthem, the relationship with Parker is fitting, as they are extending the sort of boundary defying material that reaches back to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, of which Parker belongs. Suite for Max Brown is named for and is a tribute to Parker’s mother, who is pictured on the record’s cover.  The set concludes on a high note with the ten-minute title track. It’s also featured on the pre-album single, broken into two parts but also over three minutes shorter. A- / A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: East Village, Hotrod Hotel (Slumberland) Even though they opened for House of Love and McCarthy, this indie-pop outfit, formed by brothers Martin and Paul Kelly as Episode Four in the mid-’80s in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire UK, found their greatest success posthumously. It’s a familiar story. This singles collection, initially issued in 1994 on the Summershine label, is arguably their finest achievement. After the name change the band ended up on the Sub Aqua label, cutting two EPs before the imprint went kaput. Both of those records are here, as are a few 45 and their half of a split flexi disc (not here is the “Strike Up Matches” 12-inch as Episode Four). The sound leans to the sophisticated side of the C86 spectrum, but the focus never wanders from the guitars. That’s spiff. A-

Whettman Chelmets, I Don’t Want to Let Go, But I Need to Let Go (Misophonia) Joplin, MO-based Chelmets is quite prolific; his background is touched upon in the review of his Long Read Memories in the October 10, 2019 entry of this column. There is a lot of output but also range in Chelmets’ scheme of things, as Long Read Memories struck these ears as reminiscent of ’80s-vintage non-dance Industrial of the type that was often issued on cassette, which that release was. So is this one. The difference here is that the one long piece totaling 37 minutes (broken into three digital tracks) is less Industrial and nearer to the realms of what I’ll call environmental drone (with a nod toward ambient). The influence of Sunn O))) is cited, though I wouldn’t have made that connection on my own. A-

Mr. Wrong, Create a Place (Water Wing) This Portland, OR femme/non-binary three-piece (formerly a duo) are doing what others from their neck of the woods are notable for having already done. That is, guitarist Moffett, bassist Leona, and drummer Ursula push the art-punk levels so far into the red that it can seem like they reside in England at the dawn of the ’80s with few records out on Rough Trade. To bring it back home, it’s the sorta sound that’s often associated with the Kill Rock Stars label, though historically, it reaches back to the Neo Boys, noted as Portland’s first all-woman punk band and cited by Mr. Wrong as an influence. Create a Place is a quick listen (like 15 minutes), but it reaches out pretty far, with “Window” bringing “Standing By the Window” from Aussies The Tactics to mind. Sweet. A-

Bobby Patterson, It’s Just a Matter of Time (Real Gone) Dallas soul man Patterson is aptly tagged as a music industry veteran, writing songs, recording, performing, producing and running his own label. He’s a fine example of what was once possible: carving out a long career in the biz without ever making the big time. That’s not to suggest he’s a phoenix rising from the fires of the forgotten. Cult fandom surely aided in this 1972 effort for the Paula label getting its first-time vinyl reissue. Patterson is strong of voice, writes solid tunes (all but one self-penned) and displays admirable versatility, being equally comfortable on the funky and romantic sides of the spectrum. There’s also some welcome guitar flareups and echoed vocals in “One Ounce of Prevention.” Just shy of a classic. B+

Les Saules Pleureurs, “Sadness” b/w “Wine Straight From the Bottle” (Self-released) This London duo, composed of guitarist-vocalist Robert Paul and fiddler Sophie Loyer, released a prior 7-inch in May of 2018. Like that one, this is a lathe-cut offered in an edition of 20. That’s twenty; I did not forget a zero. This effectively means that you won’t own a copy, but that’s okay, as I won’t either; one of the healthier accepted truths is that you (and I) can’t have everything. The music is available digitally, so don’t fret, as soaking up the Americana vibe this twosome lays down will reinforce that it’s all well-suited for an insanely limited home-crafted edition. This isn’t any kind of unearthed hick-action fakery, but Loyer’s appealingly heavy bow does offset the contempo indie folk tendencies. That’s appreciated. B+

The Sorcerers, In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God (ATA) I’m long on the record expressing a potential issue with instrumental funk, specifically the audible desire to impress through overzealous dexterity; sometimes it’s down to the arrangements, at other moments it’s an individual or a whole band that’s worked themselves up into a lather of overplaying. Occasionally, it’s just the flautist. I mention this because The Sorcerers do feature the flute, a horn I’ve made no bones about being far from my favorite, as I far prefer gruff honk to fluttering sophistication. Additionally, there’s vibraphone and xylophone (two other non-faves), and right off the bat in this set’s first track, “Opening Titles.” To give you an idea of the concept on The Sorcerers’ second full-length, the finale is titled “End Credits.”

Organized as a sort of faux soundtrack (inspired by an article in National Geographic magazine), In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God is undisguisedly influenced by library music, which opens up another can of worms, as that stuff could get rather um, cheesy at times. Overplaying? Most def! That the Sorcerers avoid all these pitfalls is a major cause for celebration. Offsetting the horn lilt is beaucoup bass clarinet, though I will add that Pete Williams’ (and Chip Wickham’s) flute playing never falters. And in terms of needledrop scoring, the ’70s would’ve been lucky to have this set. In closing, I’ll mention that I’ve yet to be disappointed by anything from this label. If you love Daptone and Big Crown and Colemine and just can’t get enough, then saunter right up to ATA if you haven’t already. A-

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