Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Six

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Damien Jurado, What’s New, Tomboy? (Mama Bird Recording Co. / Loose) I got into Jurado’s work pretty early on, shortly after his second album, 1999’s Rehearsals for Departure, came out on Sub Pop. I was pretty taken with that one and his follow-up from 2000, Ghost of David, enough so that I picked up a bunch of his subsequent stuff, which consisted of one more for Sub Pop and then a bunch for Secretly Canadian. And I can’t say I was let down by any of it; the guy’s consistency as a singer-songwriter in what I’ll succinctly call the post-Neil Young tradition is striking and a bit reminiscent of another guy I stumbled onto around the same time, Richard Buckner, not because they sound similar (they do, and yet they don’t), but because they were able to turn that tradition into something that was very much their own.

But I must confess that I lost track of Jurado’s work around 2012, right about when his album Maraqopa came out. This drifting apart was mainly down to his prolificacy before and since, as this new record is his 15th full-length (and he has a slew of EPs and singles, as well). This is not the only instance where I’ve disconnected from a musician or band for no fault of theirs, though sometimes return engagements can prove to be a letdown. Well, happily, not here, as What’s New, Tomboy? unwinds with confidence and verve, just like I remember it, though I don’t want to infer that he hasn’t grown as a musician since the last I heard him. No, the songs consistently impressed upon me that Jurado is in strong creative form, and it wasn’t until roughly halfway into the record and “Francine” (with its terrific vibes playing and fingerpicking) that I was reminded of the influence of ol’ Neil. From there, Jurado continues to exemplify everything that is worthwhile at the crossroads of indie and folk. Now, to catch up on what I missed. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sopwith Camel, The Miraculous Hump Returns from the Moon (Real Gone) As is the case with countless acts, maybe the least interesting thing about Sopwith Camel was their hit single, namely “Hello Hello,” which made it all the way to No. 26 in ’67. That might be overstating matters a bit, but it’s in aid of explaining how this San Francisco outfit’s long-delayed second album didn’t come completely out of nowhere. But still. Reformed with all the original members except one, the sound of Sopwith Camel circa ’73 had almost nothing to do with the Lovin’ Spoonful-Mamas & Papas neo-vaudeville pop of their earlier days, instead diving into a merger of funkiness, soft rock and spaciness, though a few songs on side two do reinforce a connection to what they sounded like before.

Now, I’ll confess to coming to Miraculous Hump with fresh ears. If the record had a cult following, I wasn’t clued in, and will admit to being more than a little skeptical over the specialness of the situation as proclaimed in the 2014 Guardian article cited in the press for this reissue, which was released in late March in a limited edition of 750 on marbled smoke vinyl (and still available). However, checking this out establishes it as much more than a curiosity (if not quite as amazing as some of the praise has it). As a lot had transpired in the period between the group’s two albums, that they migrated toward what is at times reminiscent of Steely Dan mating with Santana in a Seals & Crofts state of mind shouldn’t be a shock, but that it holds together so well, kinda is. It’s so effective that the later cuts which recall their earlier incarnation have an almost Bonzo Dog Band goes soft rock feel. Cuh-razy. I also have a creeping suspicion that folks into Shuggie Otis will dig this. B+

Ben Lukas Boysen, Mirage (Erased Tapes) The Berlin-based composer-producer Ben Lukas Boysen has a slew of records out as HECQ; in 2013 he put out his first full-length under his own name. Gravity, on Ad Noiseam. It was reissued by Erased Tapes in ’16, the same year that label released his follow-up Spells (there was a mini album, a pair of soundtracks and a collab with Sebastian Piano in there credited to Boysen, too). Mirage is described as his most “progressive and shape-shifting” album, though there are certainly elements that unify it with his prior non-HECQ, material, notably the combination of electronics with acoustic instrumentation, with fellow Berliner Anne Müller playing cello and Aussie Daniel Thorne on sax, plus piano and what sounds like a real live drum kit in “Kenotaph.”

Now, I make that distinction regarding the drums because Boysen is up to something different in Mirage. Specifically, he’s attempting to make “the human touch unrecognizable” through extensive processing, though that doesn’t mean he’s eradicating the recognizability of the “live” instruments, or for that matter, the voice of Lisa Morgenstern in opener “Empyrean.” Instead, his maneuvering is more subtle, as he bends Morgenstern’s voice in way she would be incapable of reproducing herself, and later on, blends two pianos together in “Kenotaph,” one digital the other acoustic, so that they will likely be perceived as one. Impressively, Mirage neither sounds clinical nor connects like an exercise. In fact, it’s a very engaging record overall, at times warm even, so that the success of Boysen’s intention for Mirage is up for debate. Ultimately, the record is a pleasure to hear. That’s what matters. A-

Easy, Radical Innocence (A Turntable Friend) Described as a legendary indie-pop act, Sweden’s Easy have certainly been around for a long while, debuting in 1990 with Magic Seed, a record that was picked up by Blast First in the UK and was even given a US release. They did disband in 1994 after putting out Sun Years on the Swedish label Snap, then reunited with the original lineup in 2010, subsequently releasing a couple albums on CDR that were condensed into the 2018 LP A Heartbeat from Eternity for their current label. This new record starts strong with two consecutive killers, “Crystal Waves” and “Day for Night” dishing out generous servings of jangle and heartstring tugging ache, respectively, though things settle down a bit after that, reminding me more of ’90s Britpop (no crime, just not as appealing as those earlier C86 motions). Nothing sinks too far though, with “Memory Loss Revisionism and a Brighter Future” delivering an upswing that the group ride to a strong finish. B+

Karuna Trio, Imaginary Archipelago (Meta) Whether it’s been through his numerous collaborations both as leader and contributor, or through his Go: Organic Orchestra, heard most recently on the outstanding Ragmala: A Garden of Ragas with Brooklyn Raga Massive, my experiences with the music of percussionist Adam Rudolph have been uniformly positive (though of course, I haven’t heard it all). Same goes for fellow percussionist Hamid Drake, who is a third of this group along with Rudolph and multi-horn man Ralph M. Jones, whom I’m mainly familiar with through Rudolph’s work. The sound the three are striving for here extends from what I’ll call “world-jazz,” which is to say, if you dig later Don Cherry and Oregon, odds are good you’ll be into this also, though there is a subtle electronic component adding distinctiveness to the whole. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a bunch of fluting, but it goes down fine in this context. Available digitally and on CD in a six-panel full color digipak. A-

liar, flower, Geiger Counter (One Little Indian) This set, the first for Katie Jane Garside under this moniker, available digitally May 1 but with a 2LP+CD edition and a standard CD imminent, is as strong musically as it is wide-ranging, which reflects Garside’s background; she was in Daisy Chainsaw, sang with Industrial racket-meisters Test Department, and formed Queenadreena with ex-Daisy Chainsaw bandmate Crispin Gray before collaborating with Chris Whittingham in Ruby Throat, which with Geiger Counter has been effectively reincarnated as liar, flower. Now, a fair amount of this record recalls Garside’s comfort with loud situations, but she also travels into the fairy-waif zone vocally, though preciousness is avoided through lyrics like “I was in a band called where’s my fucking phone.” Learning that Garside and Whittingham are raising their child while living on a sailboat has brought some of this a twisted sea-shanty feel. I’ll speculate that fans of Tom Waits and David Lynch will dig this quite a bit. A-

Oozelles, S/T (ORG Music) Based in Los Angeles and with ties to a couple thousand bands, the Oozelles are vocalist-guitarist Dante White Aliano, drummer David Orlando, and bassist Jada Wagensomer, with guitarist Phillip Minnig and multi-instrumentalists Samuel Banuelos and Gregory Marino filling out a sound that largely derives from the swampier, scuzzier, and rootsier developments in punk’s historical hoo-hah (they cite Gun Club, Birthday Party and Flesh Eaters as influences), but with some sturdy art-funky aspects and horns in the equation (solidifying the mention of the Contortions). After cutting a single last year for Third Man, this is their first full-length, and overall, it’s a winner. And I was wondering exactly where the reference to Can was going to manifest itself, but “News Theme” took care of that, sounding a bit like the German group in a flute-jazz frame of mind. I generally prefer this sorta thing to be a little dirtier, though choosing not to go that route makes them a little more interesting perhaps. B+

Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin, “Pop Song” b/w “So, I Went to the Beach, Melody + “Kit Carson” (Goodbye Boozy) This repress of a 7-inch from 2009 presents these guys in a wound-up manner that just might shock those who know them only through their more recent, considerably less harried material. But as they only pressed up 300 copies (the same number that was released in ’09, though there was an earlier repress in ’12), I doubt too many unsuspecting ears are going to be molested by the unbridled stomp and blare racket. The A-side is a sweet bit of lo-fi garage scuzz complete with shouting, while the first song on the flip stats out in a similar echo-laden mode leading into a longer stretch that’s a bit like Davie Allen and a bunch of wild angels trapped in Bob Bert’s gas tank. “Kit Carson” is like somebody dropped a lit match. The scoop is that this baby is already sold out, so if you want one and see one then you should most definitely grab a hold on that thing. A-

Trrmà, The Earth’s Relief (577) Signs, Gerald Cleaver’s recent LP on 577, stepped outside the avant-jazz realms that are the bedrock of this label cofounded by the great NYC saxophonist Daniel Carter and Italian native-NY-based drummer Federico Ughi. The Earth’s Relief by Trrmà, the duo of drummer-percussionist Giovanni Todisco and modular synth player Giuseppe Candiano continues 577’s sonic expansion with consistently satisfying results. Aptly described as Afrofuturist, Trrmà list a few jazz inspirations for this album that while unsurprising will surely be enticing for the uninitiated ear, namely Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Elvin Jones and Milford Graves. But equally vital to the music’s intriguing pull is hip-hoppers and turntablists, e.g., Ras G, Karriem Riggins, and Roc Raida.

The comparisons to Flying Lotus certainly make sense, as The Earth’s Relief can sound like a record released by the Leaving label rather than 577, though aspects of the avant-garde do shine through, and right away in opener “Manaslu,” so that the cited inspiration of Iannis Xenakis rings out loud and clear and places this short set securely in the company of their labelmates. As the eight pieces unwind, the dual influences of Afrobeat and footwork are easily soaked up as they blend older traditions with more recent stylistic developments in the pursuit of something new, or better said, beyond. That’s nice. But I also dig how Candiano’s synths occasionally recall those old-school electronic music LPs that came out on labels like Nonesuch and Vox Turnabout, and at other times resonate like a DIY cassette from the guts of the subterranean ’80s. Along the way, Todisco just keeps hitting and hitting and hitting. Currently only on CD in an edition of 100, plus digital. A-

Martha Veléz, Fiends and Angels (Real Gone) I first heard this in the 1990s through a collector acquaintance. It impressed me enough then that I would’ve bought a reasonably priced copy if one had been for sale. Fiends and Angels came out in 1969 on Blue Horizon in the UK and pre-punk era-Sire in the US. The debut of Veléz, formerly of folkies The Gaslight Singers, it showcased her Joplin-esque blues-belter style and featured backing (the fiends and angels of the title), at different times, from Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Mitch Mitchell, Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi, Christine McVie, Brian Auger, Paul Kossoff, Stan Webb, and Johnny Almond. History has proven that stockpiling the studio with heavyweights while making an album is no recipe for success, so my liking this back then was due to lowered expectations. I still find it okay now, even though I can’t deny wishing they’d ditched the horn section and went full guitar overload like the hell spawn of Big Brother. So, if not a disappointment, it still kinda is. B

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