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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Beauty Pill, Please Advise (Northern Spy) The first new music from Beauty Pill since the brilliant Describes Things as They Are is not a letdown, though the brevity of the release does leave me wanting more, which isn’t the same thing as disappointment, as the four tracks cohere into a worthy whole. The shortness means Please Advise might be an EP, but I’ve only seen it referred to as an LP; Beauty Pill have been tagged as post-rock, but they are also post-duration, apparently (a different bonus track comes with each format). Beauty Pill is also the band of Chad Clark, who doesn’t lump the music into the post-rock genre but rather the Beauty Pill genre, which reinforces how post-rock is in many ways post-category; Tortoise and Godspeed You! Black Emperor are up to different things, and Please Advise doesn’t sound like either of them, partly because Beauty Pill is an ever-evolving band, here introducing newest member Erin Nelson right away through her AI-like vocals in “Pardon My Dust.”

Alongside Nelson’s contribution, there’s also a horn-quartet blowing a wiggly pattern reminiscent of the Downtown NYC of yore and underscoring Clark’s love of Arto Lindsay. The mention of Lindsay provides a nice segue into some general enthusiasm for Clark’s guitar playing, which shines in closing cut “The Damnedest Thing.” But guitar isn’t a constant factor in Beauty Pill’s equation (it’s not even a constant factor in “The Damnedest Thing”). Neither is Nelson’s voice, though she’s crucial to “Prison Song.” However, rhythm is a constant here as the songs feature a blend of live and programmed drums that occasionally skitter forth in a manner similar to electronica. That’s nice. A sound that reminds me of a synthetic hammered dulcimer in “Tattooed Love” is even nicer. And the horn arrangement that pops up in “Pardon My Dust” hits my ear a little like those heard on Illinois by noted Philip Glass-fan Sufjan Stevens, so this review has come full circle. A-

Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding, Last Flight Out (Kernel Sound) Succinctly, Funeral Bonsai Wedding is a project that came to life in Chicago, bringing together Americana affiliated singer-songwriter Dawson (of the band Dolly Varden) with musicians from the Windy City experimental jazz and improv scene including bassist Jason Roebke, vibes player Jason Adasiewicz, and on self-titled 2014 debut, drummer Frank Rosaly, who’s replaced here due to the constraints of distance (as he moved to Amsterdam) by Charles Rumback. Additionally, the all-female classical string ensemble Quartet Parapluie partook in the recording of this follow-up, with their input, often terrific, going a long way in solidifying the comparison to Astral Weeks that accompanies the album in preparation of its release on vinyl, CD, and digital this week.

The other reason for the connection to Van is due to the mingling of the songwriter scene with jazz, which often doesn’t produce much beyond expert playing and trivia (as in, “hey, do you know who’s soloing there?”) but delivered something truly special on Astral Weeks. Now, Last Night Out isn’t as great as Weeks (very few records are) but there are a few spots where the similarity jumps out as accurate, mostly due to Roebke but in “However Long it Takes,” very much through Dawson’s vocals. His singing more frequently reinforces his Americana background to the point where this set is recommended for folks deeply invested in the style’s contempo developments, although he can occasionally remind me of Tim Buckley, a circumstance surely helped by how Adasiewicz can recall David Friedman on Happy Sad, Blue Afternoon, and Dream Letter. But really, this set is a winner on its own merits; the songs are as strong as the singing and the playing is just top-flight all the way through. A-

Adeline Hotel, Solid Love (Whatever’s Clever) Maybe it’s due to songwriter and Adeline Hotel leader Dan Knishkowy electing to put together a “settled band” for Solid Love, or perhaps I’m just in a better mood, but I’m appreciating this new set a little more than his outfit’s prior effort away together, which came out in 2018 (with vinyl copies still available). But wait a minute. A fair number of instrumentalists making their mark here have returned from that earlier set, such as bassist Andrew Stocker, guitarist Ben Seretan, drummer Sean Mullins (of Wilder Maker), and keyboardist Winston Cook-Wilson, so maybe the problem was just me. I’d go back to check, but time is of the essence, and I’m trying to accentuate the positive here.

Knishkowy has brought in a few more folks with whom I’m familiar, like noted solo artist Matt Kivel and Irish singer-songwriter Brigid Mae Power. Both lend their voices to the record, but after a few spins I think the appeal is really down to the quality of the songs wedded to delivery that reminds me of a mix of Lambchop (Cook-Wilson’s piano) and Jim O’Rourke’s songwriter albums (Andy Cush makes this comparison in the PR notes, and I do hear it) but with considerable folky elements, sometimes rural at other times citified (there are brief flashes of an AOR soft-rock sensibility that I recall from before), with this aspect illuminated by the vocals of Power and Devra Freelander, especially an earlier acoustic demo of “Trying for You” with Freelander that was released in January as a name your price download together with the album version’s pre-release single. If you end up enjoying Solid Love, do seek out that demo and throw in some cash while you’re at it.  B+

The Flatmates, S/T (HHBTM / Subway Organization) I stupidly let this one slip by me when it came out back in early March (it seems like so long ago), but there’s no time like now to remedy that omission. The Flatmates hail from Bristol in the UK and were part of the C86 scene, though they weren’t selected for the tape given away by the New Musical Express which named the movement, nor were they chosen by Cherry Red for the 3CD box set from a few years back. Now, if you’re wondering just how indie pop The Flatmates actually are, rest assured they fit the description without a snag, but what I dig about them is how Martin Whitehead’s guitar is raw and grouchy, with opener “Shut Up and Kiss Me” so reminiscent of The Ramones that I was scrambling to see if it was a cover. ‘twas not, as the R&R belter vocals of Lisa Bouvier quickly made clear. The CD has five extra tracks including a Prince cover, but the 13 cuts on the vinyl are a dose of loud pop that’s refreshing and wholly satisfying. A-

Grand Veymont, Persistance & Changement (Objet Disque) On their 2018 effort Route du vertige (reviewed in this column) and the self-titled follow-up from last year (not reviewed in this column), the French duo of Béatrice Morel Journel and Josselin Varengo offered four tracks each of a sound they described as “salon de Krautrock,” but on this new LP they adjust the program, instead presenting only one piece, 39 minutes in length, that’s spread across both sides of the vinyl edition and offered digitally as a single file (there does not appear to be a CD). Now, those earlier releases already illuminated a tendency to stretch out, which fits a sound that’s definitely Krautrock-like and occasionally Stereolab-esque in part due to the French gal vocals, oh so very appealing (especially early in this piece, which recalls Lætitia Sadier’s singing at its very best), but also due to the synths and the rhythmic action.

As one might imagine, Grand Veymont serving up one album-length track has the potential to be either delightful or a miscalculation. Happily, the results are multifaceted enough that it ultimately connects like a logical progression from their earlier work rather than an overextension. And yet, other than one particular spot that seems like the sensible location to cleave the piece for vinyl (but in their favor, doesn’t feel shoehorned in to fit the demands of the format), the contents do flow effectively as a single piece, or really, two pieces, one Persistence (side one) and the other Changement (the flip), perhaps. Of course, fluency in French would help me in this regard, though it’s the beauty of their keyboard-synth reverberations and Grand Veymont’s depth of creativity that ensures this ride completes without ever running low on gas. A-

Andrew Hibbard, S/T (Sofaburn) Ohioan Hibbard has a pair of prior releases, Foot in the Door from 2012 and Under the Knife following three years later, but releasing this set eponymously suggests, after a break of half a decade, that’s he’s presenting these ten songs as a sort of reintroduction. It’s a not-uncommon maneuver when it comes to singer-songwriters, which Hibbard most certainly is (though he’s also credited as a writer of poetry) as this record initially captures him in the country-rock zone (his instrument is guitar). It’s a genre that’s never far away as this set progresses, though he’s also comfortable inhabiting classic ’60s folk modes, with Dylan an obvious antecedent (he covered him three times on Foot in the Door). But there are other threads, like the swell closer “Running from the Enemy,” that resonate like a songwriter pushing outward from a folk foundation, which is always appreciated when it hits hard. This set does, reminding me of The Band rather than say, Chris Thile. B+

Modern Studies, The Weight of the Sun (Fire) The fourth full-length from this Scottish four-piece continues to explore the possibilities of what has been synopsized as Krautrock meets UK folk-rock with a chamber-pop foundation. Opener “Photograph” insinuates a slow-paced psychedelic journey, but then “Run for Cover” dishes a concise nugget of a left-field disco-tinged pop single, like it’s 1976 or thereabouts, complete with the increasingly confident shared vocals of Emily Scott and Rob St. John. This isn’t exactly a shocker, as pop has been an ingredient in their recipe from the start; hell, I even mentioned ABBA in connection to Wayward Strangers when writing it up for this very website’s list of Best New Releases back in 2018. But characteristics a bit unusual, at least in pop terms, often transpire in Modern Studies work, even at its most accessible. This is still very much the case, as the group keep refining their sound without weakening what makes them great. A-

Sachet, Nets (Tenth Court) The velocity and the sheer catchiness wielded by Sydney, Australia’s Sachet right away on their second album (and the first I’ve heard) reminded me of pop-punk in the appealing old-school manner. A whole LP of that stuff would’ve been welcome. However, the band, spawned from the ashes of Day Ravies back in 2016 by Lani Crooks (who’s Sachet’s primary songwriter) and Sam Wilkinson (Nick Webb and now Kate Wilson complete the band), offer a dozen songs with range as a punkish quality undeniably runs through the set. Sometimes it’s a post-punk approach while at other points it’s a sturdy jangling sensibility that can bring to mind the initial British wave of indie pop. More often though, they connect like they could’ve been on K Records in the early ’90s, but not quite as shambolic, which is where the cited influence of the dB’s comes in. Like I said, range. If your copies of Chickfactor are still stacked atop the toilet tank, I’d say you need this. B+

Virginia Trance, Vincent’s Playlist (BYM) Had I not been just recently knocked-out by Rotterdam’s Lewsberg, I suspect my impression of the second LP from NYC’s Virginia Trance would be even more positive than it already is, though that’s not to say I would’ve given the post-Flying Nun/ Dream Syndicate/ Felt jangle-pop here a higher grade. I can keep matters in perspective, even as Vincent’s Playlist has had me smiling throughout its runtime on each spin thus far. Now, I mention Lewsberg due to the inescapable root of those Velvets in the sonic briar patch of both bands, though the difference is that Virginia Trance, which features the songs of singer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Ryan Davis, is far less of a post-punk affair. Guitar is abundant however, as Chilean string bender Sam Maquieira of The Ganjas, Wild Parade, Yajaira (label BYM is based in Santiago, Chile) brings his talents to the table. The style they offer is like an eternal breath of fresh air in a terribly polluted world. A-

The Warlocks, The Chain (Cleopatra) My math has this as studio full-length number nine for The Warlocks of Los Angeles, who debuted with a self-titled EP in the year 2000 and have carried on in a neo-psychedelic manner ever since, with founding singer and multi-instrumentalist Bobby Hecksher the one constant in a lineup with many changes. It suffices to say that if you’re a fan of Anton Newcombe and think that guy doesn’t release enough records, you’re either already familiar with The Warlocks (who Newcombe joined for a while as drummer as Hecksher was a member of Brian Jonestown Massacre) or you should get acquainted. Might as well do it with this one, which across ten tracks presents a musical narrative of “two star-crossed lovers who commit a bank heist together.” Candidly, I listened to this three times before I realized it was a concept album, but that might just be to the good. Standout tracks are “The Robbery” and “You Stooge You.” There are no stinkers. B+

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