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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Simon Fisher Turner & Edmund de Waal, A Quiet Corner In Time (Mute) A lot of the time, when I’m introduced to works composed to accompany art installations (which admittedly isn’t all that often), I can’t help shake that the sounds are impressing upon me that, y’know, I really should’ve been there. Similar to the vast majority of film scores (for every great one there are dozens that aren’t), they excel at enhancing the experience for which they were conceived but don’t exactly thrive when presented as a standalone work. There are exceptions of course, and this release, which offers what began as a sound work by composer Simon Fisher Turner for ceramicist and author Edmund de Waal’s architectural installation, – one way or other –, at the Schindler House in Los Angeles, is one of those.

The reason why comes down to the depth and dimension of the project, bringing Fisher Turner’s field recordings, which were captured in Vienna and LA, together with what the ample bio for this set describes as de Waal’s “placed materials and architectural interventions: porcelain vessels and shards, furniture, and vitrines.” Fisher Turner states that his intention was to “activate the exhibition without touching it,” and it strikes my ear that he’s succeeded; as the tracks unwind, the impression is of progressing from space to space, even as the piece alternates from field recordings to processed sound (and mingles the two). There are plenty of repeated clinks, clanks, scrapes and spiraling sounds that impress de Waal’s impact on the piece itself and heighten the distinctiveness. There is also Ryuichi Sakamoto’s recordings of Mr. Raku’s fine coffee and tea ceramics. An exceptional release. A

Nap Eyes, Snapshot of a Beginner (Jagjaguwar) Nap Eyes’ prior long player I’m Bad Now  served as my introduction to the band, a solid batch of songs that, through the singing of Nigel Chapman, reminded me a bit of Dan Behar (he of Destroyer). That was cool, but this new record brought this similarity to mind very seldom as the overall approach, which combines the best qualities of singer-songwriter-styled indie rock (think Bill Callahan and Purple Mountains) with ’80s Brit/ Aussie guitar-pop at its most richly elevated, comes into sharper focus. Chapman, the lyricist here on all the songs but one, continues to hone a sensibility that’s poetic without drifting into the eccentric the way Berman, Callahan, and Behar can. Instead, Nap Eyes register as fruit from the same fertile tree that gifted us with the Go-Betweens, Jazz Butcher, Felt, and even East River Pipe. A surprising and excellent record. A

Roedelius, Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe (Bureau B) In the annals of kosmische and Krautrock, composer and multi-instrumentalist Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a figure of deserved esteem, most prominently for his work as a co-founder of Kluster/ Cluster and then Harmonia, plus a handful of collabs with Brian Eno, though the largest portion of his work has been solo. One of the earliest of his own was Selbstportrait in ’79, his third solo LP overall, which kicked off an on-again off-again series of self-portraits (the literal translation of the title) that have intertwined through a solo discography that now numbers into the dozens. Here’s the latest installment, initiated at the suggestion of Gunther Buskies, the founder of Bureau B, as that label’s been reissuing a fair portion of his work over the last decade.

Buskies further asked that this new one utilize the instrumentation that dominated his work circa the late ’70s, specifically Farfisa organ, drum machine, tape-delay, and a Rhodes keyboard. If you’re thinking this isn’t exactly boding well as portraiture of Roedelius in 2020, Buskies openly wondered (threw down the challenge, if you will) if the man could “beam back” into his past and, using essentially the same gear, come up with something similar. Well, he has, and it unwinds superbly, but with Onnen Bock (a member of Roedelius’ recent project Qluster) and Wolf Bock on board, it registers as much more than just a re-creation of his earlier self. And hell, I can’t deny that I started to lose a firm grip on the guy’s work after ’81 or so, which made the specifics of this LP/ CD mighty enticing. Often nearer to Terry Riley than new age, this is a rewarding 53-minute set. A-

The Allergies, “Felony” b/w “Rile ‘Em Up” (Jalapeno) Bristol, UK-based DJ Moneyshot and Rackabeat have a couple LPs out, plus a slew of 45s, many of which are still available (though some in very limited quantities); this is their latest, a taster for the upcoming Say the Word album, and the contents adhere, without a snag, to the motto found on their Bandcamp page. That is, “making funky music is a must…” The A-side is a likeable enough slab of soul-grooving that should adequately squeeze the lemon of anybody into Gnarls Barkley, though this hits a little harder to me, and that’s appreciated. But it’s the flip that all but steals the show, an upbeat dancefloor filler with male rapping that kinda suggested to me a one-off single circa-1991 from the Delicious Vinyl label on a Latin kick, but with singing from Marietta Smith that brought to mind Deee-Lite. That’s a pleasant sound to consider. B+

Daniel Avery & Alessandro Cortini, Illusion of Time (Mute) For those treading the waters of life chin-deep in contemporary electronic sounds, this collab is likely one of those “hell, yeah” moments, as Avery has a couple of highly-regarded full-lengths out plus a fuckton of EPs, as is unsurprising in the realms of electronica. Cortini? Well, he’s a member of Nine Inch Nails. For those less familiar with the principals of this meeting, the byproduct can still be of interest but is just as likely to seem like a skippable thing, largely because these sorts of creative get-togethers don’t often produce the spark of invention and inspiration that promote repeated listens. Instead, they can provide something of an extended aural polaroid that rarely gets pulled from the scrapbook section of one’s personal shelf.

As someone who’s unfamiliar with Avery beyond reputation and a casual listener of Nine Inch Nails, I fit the above description and confess that I was more than a smidge apprehensive after the PR informed me that Illusion of Time is a byproduct of years of remote collab without having ever met, followed by a big quick three-hour finish in a NYC hotel room as Avery began opening a US tour for NIN. Well, after time spent, I needn’t have worried, for I listened to this digestibly album-length set three consecutive times without the slightest twinge of regret. And going back for more proved fulfilling, underscoring that one (okay, I) shouldn’t rely on assumptions. Avery’s own albums find him moving away from club-heavy techno; there isn’t a beat to be found here, but the contents aren’t really ambient, either. The sounds are big, sometimes gliding, but more often gushing in slo-mo. And the proceedings can get quite dark. A-

Martin Bisi, Solstice (Bronson Recordings) Bisi’s sixth LP came out last November, but I just caught wind of it through the video “single” release of the album’s opening title track, “Let It Fall.” I was quite impressed upon checking out the song, so here’s some deserved if belated coverage of the LP. In the underground rock scene, New Yorker Bisi is a cornerstone figure as a producer, having worked with Sonic Youth, Swans, Jim Foetus, and Boredoms, plus less rock taggable figures such as Eno, Bill Laswell, and John Zorn. He also played a role in his city’s emerging hip-hop scene and manned the boards for Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” so along with helping to define the particulars of a specific style and era, he impacted an impressively wide range of late 20th century NYC sound creation.

Bisi’s own discography kicked off in 1988 with Creole Mass (a record I remember digging quite a bit) on the New Alliance label, and he’s progressed, with understandable gaps due to his “main” gig, up to now. This might seem like a case of one activity stymieing the other, but Bisi describes his time spent as producer as an influence on his own stuff, and taken with the diversity detailed above, his observation is borne out across Solstice. It probably wouldn’t be difficult for Bisi to coordinate an attention-grabbing All-star affair, but to his credit he’s more concerned with conjuring an expansive whole. Here, he rounds up a bunch of able contributors including soprano vocalist Amanda White, who shines in “Let It Fall” and particularly “Unbirth,” a 19-minute track that passes in what feels like half the time. The music is topically pointed as well, with “Ode to Freddie Gray” and the anti-war “Waves on My Mind.” A-

Destroyer of Light, Generational Warfare EP (Heavy Friends) Formed in Austin, TX in the thereabouts of 2012, Destroyer of Light are a four-piece categorized as Doom metal, with an inspection of their earlier catalog verifying that assessment as accurate but with a general hard rock thrust also impacting the proceedings. For this release, the hard rocking nature prevails as they retain the heaviness on the fairly brisk-paced A-side “These Walls,” a cut with decided ’90s ambiance. As the vocals remined me a bit of Page Hamilton (the music doesn’t), that’s alright. The flip features a version of The Cure’s “Lullaby” that managed to survive the malady known as Wildly Unusual/ Unlikely Cover Song Syndrome, improving as it plays as the late uptick in tempo works. On 45, in an edition of 100. Get crackin’. B+

Diarchy, Splitfire (Unherd Music) Kinda crazily given the mention in the review directly above, but right out of the gate, this duo from Bangalore, India did remind me a bit of Helmet, but without coming off like copyists as the similarity ebbs and flows across this appealing album, their second. Akin to the vast majority of contempo outfits brandishing a heavily metallic temperament, I like it best when they don’t sing, but after a few spins the vocals here go down just fine as the duo blend aspects of stoner rock (a la Kyuss) and precise instrumentalism (like Clutch and yes, Helmet) into a whole that stays fresh across a 40-minute runtime. The inspired song construction is the reason for success, but Sridhar Varadarajan, who recorded and mixed this CD, is an ingredient in the successful recipe, as well. I’m staying tuned. B+

The Earth Below, Nothing Works Vol 2: Hymns for Useless Gods (Unherd Music) Like Diarchy above, The Earth Below hails from Bangalore, India, the project of Deepak Raghu, he of bands Shepherd and Bevar Sea. Both of those outfits are described as stoner-doom in comportment, and there’s no denying a metallic aura here, as well. But there’s also a whole lot else happening, to the point that calling Nothing Works Vol 2 a metal album just feels inapt. Opener “Brave Noise” wafts a mild Slint-like aroma, “Come to Me” Spector-ish ’60s pop, and closer “Stranger at Sea” provides a singer-songwriter template with injections of psych guitar mellowness suggesting Raghu’s been listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross” or something. Again, the stated love of Sabbath is often apparent on this CD, but the sheer diversity on display never produces disjunction. To the contrary, it all goes down pretty easy. B+

The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines (Kozmik Artifactz) Kozmik Artifactz is a German label, but The Heavy Eyes are from Memphis, TN. With Love Like Machines, they now have six LPs (including a live album) in their discography, though this one almost didn’t happen. But adding a guitarist and heading to New Mexico to record with Matt Quails delivered a finished product that highlights refocused energies, as it all goes down pretty well. The Heavy Eyes specialize in a stoner-like power boot with bluesy hard rock undercurrents that can work up solid grooves without driving them into the ground. They also avoid getting schticky, with nary a thwacked cowbell in sight, while taking a few humorous turns (“God Damn Wolf Man”) but never faltering into the goofy. Overall, it’s nice these guys kept it together. B+

Kalbells, “Mothertime” (NNA Tapes) Kalmia Traver sings in and leads the band Rubblebucket, with Kalbells her electronic/ experimental pop side project (or just plain project), here following up the 2017 debut Ten Flowers. As gleaned from the bio for this 4-song cassette EP, both it and the prior LP are composed of songs from a two-month writing retreat. Additionally, her work in Kalbells up to now has wrestled with themes derived from surviving ovarian cancer. For this release, she worked with co-producer Jeremy Malvin (Chrome Sparks) in a studio loaded with acoustic instruments (the space shared with So Percussion), with those sound-makers used for “Mothertime” without diminishing what was introduced on Ten Flowers. Traver is clearly more drawn to contempo mersh pop than I am (as heard in “Precipice”), but she’s a damn fine singer, and this set, short and sweet, finds her getting engagingly out-there (e.g. “Cool and Bendable”). The sax in “Tremble” is a sweet capper. A real grower of an EP. A-

L.A. Takedown, Our Feeling of Natural High (Castle Face) Aaron M. Olson debuted this project in 2014 with the Burger cassette Top Down (Heater On) and followed it with two releases for Ribbon Music, a self-titled 2015 album (one long track, also titled “L.A. Takedown” spread across the vinyl) and in 2017, II. The name of the unit (which features numerous players including John Herndon of Tortoise and Yukihiro Takahashi of Yellow Magic Orchestra on vocals) is taken from an ’89 TV movie directed by Michael Mann, which fits pretty nicely with how the music seems designed to elevate (or at least reframe) sounds considered to be cheese, or otherwise lowbrow, in nature. Yes, a whole lot of what’s here flaunts the sort of synth/ keyboard ooze intrinsically linked to ’80s schlock, but it’s slyly infused with non-corn elements (like a bit of Evening Star-era Fripp & Eno in opener “There is a Drone In Griffith Park”) so that my interest was held for the duration. At times, this set is quite fascinating. B+

Mayflower Madame, Prepared for a Nightmare (Only Lovers / Little Cloud / Icy Cold) This is the second full-length for Oslo, Norway’s Mayflower Madame, following 2016’s Observed in a Dream (there is also a pair of EPs, the oldest from ’13) and it reveals a pretty firm handle on a post-punk/ neo-psych hybrid potent enough that, during early track “Vultures” (smartly chosen as a single), I was checking to see who released this, thinking it might be on Fuzz Club or Sacred Bones (in a cool twist, Mayflower Madame has shared stages with bands signed to both labels). There’s also a prevailing Goth thrust as parts of the record bring to mind The Cure, Bauhaus (peaking in “Never Turning (In Time)”) and Joy Div, who aren’t Goth but bring us back around to the post-punk side of Mayflower Madame’s equation. Solid stuff. B+

Jeffrey Silverstein, You Become the Mountain (Arrowhawk Records) Before moving to Portland, OR, Silverstein was in the Brooklyn duo Nassau and the Baltimore outfit Secret Mountain, both acts described as indie in style, but the move west brought a switch to a considerably more contemplative singer-songwriter approach, with the man going it alone with a guitar and drum machine for his cassette EP How on Earth in January of 2019. For this full-length follow-up, also on cassette, the drum machine has stuck around but he’s added pedal steel and electric bass with results that are often pretty and consistently relaxing, but with a sharp clarity that keeps the music from ever fading into the background. This is notable, as a “getting at-one with nature” vibe does transpire, as Silverstein’s inspirations include long-distance running; he even samples a second-hand mindfulness tape in the opening track. Indeed, there are a few New-Ageist turns, but that’s alright. The guitar playing is a little better than alright. B+

Sons of Disaster, Cursed (Mottow Soundz) A five-piece hailing from Brussels, Sons of Disaster deliver a hard rock/ speed metal/ punk rock combo on their second album and first for Mottow Sounds. Opening with “Die Motherfucker” and closing with “Fuck You,” it suffices to say that the general attitude is surly. This could’ve spelled, um, disaster for the band, but they pull it off, partly because Greg Triest is a legit singer, coming out of the soulful tradition of young Danzig, and the band ultimately doesn’t favor any of the ingredients in their equation over the others, so that potential stylistic snags get avoided. They also don’t falter into bad attitude schtick, like a second-rate Dwarves maybe, and that’s cool. Their first album Death and Destruction came out in 2013, which was…kind of a while back. I’d suggest hitting the practice space with more frequency, but they’ll probably just tell me to go fuck myself. So I won’t. B+

Spotlights, “We Are All Atomic” (Blues Funeral) Brooklyn’s Spotlights have been on my radar for a while, but this 4-song EP (vinyl, CD, digital) is my first plunge into their sound, and it left me feeling like a dummy (or at least a slacker) for not taking the dive sooner. Plus, two of the prior LPs came out on Ipecac, which should’ve given me a further nudge. This set initially came out as the capper to Year One of Blues Funeral’s Postwax subscription series, and it’s very effective in conveying the specific ingredients in their sound, which are, succinctly: shoegaze, sludge and doom. Unsurprisingly, they stand out more than a bit from the crowd of their heavy counterparts, though bassist Sarah Quintero ensures this untitled piece (divided into four parts) is plenty hefty. And together with her guitarist/ multi-instrumentalist husband Mario Quintero and drummer Chris Enriquez, they expand outward while not sacrificing the thud-pummel. Both Quinteros sing, appealingly. All-around impressive stuff. A-

Harry Stafford, Gothic Urban Blues (Black Lagoon) As singer-guitarist in the post-punk Goth-hued Inca Babies, Stafford has been on the scene since the early ’80s. That band was active into the middle of last decade, but in 2017 Stafford released his first solo LP Guitar Shaped Hammers, with this set his follow-up. For newbies, the title of the set, which will arrive on vinyl this summer but is available digitally now, might give you an idea of what’s in store; Stafford, who also plays piano here, takes a nice long swim in the lagoon located betwixt the residences of Tom Waits and Nick Cave but without coming off like a calculated hybrid. He also doesn’t get too performative, though there are a few selections, like the noir-ish “Sideways Shuffle,” that have the air of cinematic/ novelistic storytelling about them. The band he’s assembled, billed as the Guitar Shaped Hammers, is solid throughout, especially Kevin Davy on horns. B+

V/A, Penrose Records Vol. 1 (Penrose / Daptone) Although the title to the left is splashed across the cover of a digital compilation, its contents, ten tracks deep, represent the five vinyl 45s of sweet neo-soul that comprise the initial installments from Bosco Mann’s new Daptone subsidiary. The comp has been out for a little while now, but the entire 7-inch run is available for purchase this Friday, with this review timed to coincide with their release. And it doesn’t matter if you are clued-in on the Southern California “souldies” scene, which Mann is setting out to document with the Penrose imprint, or you just love hearing soulful vocalizing in tandem with solid instrumental foundations, for the selections hit that sweet spot that’ll please both the more casual listener and the most diligent fan.

So, whichever you are (or if you fall at some point in between), you’ll want to check out the whole run. While I’m far from an expert, the aforementioned “souldies” scene is directly related to the Cali lowrider experience. In the notes to Stone Crush, Light in the Attic’s comp (on vinyl) of underheard ’70-’80s Memphis soul (a recent archival pick in this column), it’s mentioned how the lowriders are so bonkers over soul they have flown singers to California and then paid them to sing along to their own records. That’ll hopefully clarify why these groups exist, with all but one from CA, and also why there is an abundance of sharp falsetto leads and rich harmonies (aspects favored by the lowriders) alongside unwaveringly on-point and occasionally surprising instrumentation.

The two tracks leading off Penrose Records Vol. 1 from Thee Sacred Souls (of San Diego) deliver the essential template moving forward; mid-tempo love-focused songs that should warm the heart of anyone who’s ever been grabbed by the brilliance of the great Smokey R. East L.A.’s Thee Sinseers extend this foundation, but add an Isaac Hayes-like horn motif and dish an instrumental version on their flipside to underscore just how inside the pocket the playing is here. Miami’s Jason Joshua switches up the program a bit, raising the tempo on his A-side and giving both cuts a Latin tinge. The Altons feature two members of Thee Sinseers, though the sound is a little more stripped back but still vocal group flush; the use of vibes on their B-side is a treat. Altadena, CA’s Los Yesterdays are the veteran act here, offering a culminating digression, deeper of voice and with a little psych-soul action on their B-side. Overall, Penrose Records Vol. 1 is a beacon of inaugural consistency, so the grade applies to each 45. A-

Woorms, Twitching, as Prey (Hospital Records / Sludgelord Records) Woorms are a trio from Baton Rouge, LA. They are not swampy. But sludgy? As the name of the label co-releasing this sophomore effort relates, yep. It sorta comes with the territory with sludge rock, but there’s a measure of the metallic in the whole, though noise rock hits the bullseye of their thing a little better, methinks. Some of the bands to which Woorms have been compared, by none other than Blake Harrison of Pig Destroyer: Melvins, KARP, Harvey Milk, Jesus Lizard, and Neurosis. Surely this list and the individual who made it will be all that’s necessary for many to slap down cash on the (currently internet) barrel for this baby, which comes in a couple of vinyl editions (the test pressing is sold out), as well as CD and digital, but for those amenable to the style who need an extra nudge, this one consistently satisfied these ears, and with unexpected twists such as concluding chamber strings in “God Botherer.” A-

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