Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
June 2020, Part Five

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Céu, APKÁ! (Six Degrees) This is the fifth release from the São Paulo, Brazil-based singer and composer Céu, but it’s the first I’ve heard. The blend of pop, electronic elements, dance rhythms, classic Brazilian song and even flashes of psychedelia has me excited to investigate her earlier stuff, though this set is being promoted as a metamorphosis for the artist (indeed, a chrysalis gets mentioned). She’s accompanied here by her producer-drummer husband Pupillo and a core band of familiars that includes Frenchman Hervé Salters on keyboards (he also co-produced). There are a few guests, with guitarist Marc Ribot among them, which I admit perked my interest right up, though the quality of Céu’s vocals and compositions had me shifting focus right quick.

Nine out of the eleven tracks are hers. In what’s described as a new move for Céu, she tackles a pair of outside compositions, specifically interpreting Caetano Veloso’s “Pardo” and a fresh piece, as she requested that Dinho from the group Boogarins write a song for the album (“Make Sure Your Head is Above”), a smart move as she and Ribot shine on the track. Overall, I’d guess that listeners into folktronica and Tropicalia should find this record right up their alley. The album also seems to have been out for a while, as a compact disc and vinyl was issued in Brazil last year (a green opaque club edition co-released by a few Brazilian entities), though Six Degrees is handling the distribution in the USA and Europe. My copy of APKÁ! arrived on CD, but I have noticed a vinyl pre-order online. Hopefully, it gets another pressing on wax, as the contents strike my ear as especially conducive to the format. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sound of The San Francisco Christian Center, s/t (Cultures of Soul) Founded in 1954, The San Francisco Christian Center is noted as one of the first churches, circa the late ’60s, to welcome disaffected hippies. If you’ve studied up on the era, you know there was quite a few youngsters in the Bay Area fitting the description, as thousands seeking the idyllic liberation lifestyle poured into the region and were greeted with…something else. Frankly, the SFCC’s generosity was just a Christian thing to do, but mentioning it really gets to the good vibes positivity that emanates from the grooves of this reissue. The LP was initially self-released in 1978, with that edition (there have been no other pressings until now) highly sought after and very expensive. It features a killer band soaring under the direction of multi-instrumentalist and arranger Carl Fortier, with the results stylistically intersecting with the bold and lush motions of the same era’s pop-soul and R&B.

To be sure, this album effectively underscores the intrinsic connection between gospel and its secular genre descendant, soul, but folks who prefer their Christian sounds to be hotter and a little edgier and rawer need be prepared for the pure breadth that’s in evidence across this album, as Fortier and the band gained access to what sure sounds like a mellotron (there are also synths), which intensifies the lushness placing this as contemporary to ’70s Stevie and Earth, Wind & Fire. Another stated influence on the proceedings is the San Fran-based Andraé Crouch, with this association hopefully driving home the sounds on offer here. Still, as someone who gravitates to those wilder examples of gospel heat (as previously compiled by labels like Tompkins Square), I must relate how this LP completely won me over, as the sheer celebratory joie de vivre in the playing and singing ultimately proved impossible to resist. Originals have sold for hundreds of dollars, so this repress is a smart buy for those inclined. A-

Civic Center, The Ground Below (American Dreams) This Windy City-based Industrial trio has already dished five sets of music, all on cassette, through Chicago Research, which is their label (and arts collective), with a discography now totaling nearly 40 releases, including tapes by Understudy, the project of Civic Center frontman Jack Brockman, and Hen of the Woods, which is the work of this group’s bassist Clementine Wink; Civic Center’s synth and electronics player Blake Karlson heads the endeavor. Cassettes aside, The Ground Below is described as Civic Center’s debut album (released on vinyl, including a test pressing in an edition of 10, plus compact disc through the label of musician and Chicago Research contributor Jordan Reyes), and it’s a fiesta of the requisite dark edge, but with tangible songlike sensibilities, enough so that listeners with an enthusiasm for post-punk who might shy away from sounds tagged as Industrial (due to the expected harshness) might want to check this out.

However, a few tracks, like “High Beams,” “The Prophet,” and finale “You Know What This Means,” do travel right up to the border of the clang and grind deep weeds, but partly through the depth of Brockman’s voice, Wick’s round bass notes, and some of the rhythm programming, that aforementioned dark edge occasionally reminds me of Joy Division, if they’d fluttered, mothlike, nearer to the Industrial flame. But I should add how parts of this (many parts, as there are eight selections in all) don’t suggest Joy Div a bit. Interestingly (and appealingly), Civic Center’s use of danceable rhythms is reminiscent not at all of Wax Trax-style dystopian booty-shake, but again of early ’80s post-punk. It’s also nice to read that Chicago Research, and by extension this trio, promote inclusivity, which is noteworthy as Industrial culture has been known to move from the dyspeptic through nihilism into flat-out hostility toward those who don’t fit a certain paradigm of nonconformity. Civic Center’s dark mayhem is fully embraceable. A-

Easy Love, Wander Feeler (Loantaka) Riverside, CA’s Justine Brown is Easy Love, with Wander Feeler her second album and first for Loantaka, as her self-titled 2017 LP came out on Burger and Wallflower Records. But if you haven’t heard that one you still might’ve heard Brown, as she’s played extensively with her sister in Summer Twins. But enough background, as this set features a dozen cuts that cohere into an engaging guitar-pop whole. Recorded in Boston at the home studio of Eric Penna, who engineered and mixed, Brown had an array of vintage instruments at her disposal, though Wander Feeler doesn’t register as rustic but rather like a classic LP, which was her intent. Along with sturdy songs, bold but pretty singing and sharp guitar, Brown’s artistry verifies her experience as an album listener, as she hooked me right away with the sweet opening instrumental and delivered a platter that clocks in at under a half hour. So, it can be spun a bunch of times. I have and will spin it some more. A-

Fairuz, Maarifti Feek (Wewantsounds) This label previously reissued Lebanese diva Fairuz’s Wahdon, released in 1979 and considered a career revitalizer in collaboration with her son Ziad Rahbani, who replaced his father and uncle as her musical director. With Wahdon, Ziad updated Fairuz’s approach to include disco while keeping tabs on her mastery of the trad styles which established her stardom. For this second album, recorded in ’83-’84 but for some reason not released until ’87 and reissued for the first time on vinyl here, her son largely dials back the disco, though funkiness is still part of the equation, as are jazzy elements, beaucoup symphonics, and even a little bossa nova action. All this is in connection with Fairuz’s singing of course, which underscores throughout the set why she’s such a celebrated figure. For those unsure if this falls into their bag, I’d say that for ears tickled by the ’70s-’80s orchestral pop of Turkey and India, this is a solid buy. Heads into Arabic funk are likely already hip to the deal. B+

Shana Falana, Darkest Light  (Arrowhawk) Darkest Light was sent to me for review last October (It feels like so, so long ago), but I passed it over for coverage at the time for no other reason than just having an abundance of records to choose from on a weekly basis. I am not complaining (uh-uh, no way) as I’m overlooking one right now in electing to drop Falana’s LP into this week’s column. Here’s the skinny: As I’ve kept returning to this set over the last few months, in part due to the utter pleasure and steadying inspiration provided by the album’s early standout “Everyone is Gonna Be Okay,” I simply felt the urge to rectify the omission before any more time elapsed. Featuring nine songs blending aspects of dream-pop, shoegaze, indie-rock and more, Darkest Light is a start-to-finish winner, with the cut mentioned above a solid encapsulation of the record’s whole, moving from propulsive jangle-lilt to tougher Sonic Youth-like territory with deftness that comes with experience.

The title track starts out a little like Mary Timony from back in her Helium days but covered in a Goth-ish shroud. This flows pretty slickly into a nifty cover of Depeche Mode’s “Stripped,” which in turn segues into “Right Now is All We Know,” the heavy momentum of which, after winding up into motion in a manner reminiscent of Kevin Ayers’ “Stop This Train (Again Doing It),” suggests the heavy motorik propulsion of Thee Oh Sees (Falana lived in San Fran in the ’90s). But “Come on Over” moves from a kosmische beginning into a neo-psych zone with Velvets touches and then back into a Goth environment. However, this Goth sensibility isn’t especially covered in cobwebs, as it really comes down to the sound of Falana’s voice. She sings damned well, and her album is damned good. Hey, better late than never, I say. A-

Art Feynman, Half Price at 3:30 (Western Vinyl) Feynman is the guise of recording artist and producer Luke Temple, whom you may know from the outfit Here We Go Magic, or from his prior album under this moniker, Blast Off Through the Wicker, which was reviewed positively in his column in July of 2017. Temple as Feynman taps into a bunch of different distinctive genres, from Nigerian highlife to Japanese art pop to Krautrock, to come up with a sound that transcends pastiche, in large part because he seems only moderately interested in replicating the more commonly recognized aspects of those styles, and when he does, he tweaks them to rewarding effect. And throwback cover art aside, he’s not really dabbling in irony, though late track “Emancipate Your Love Life” could be considered an exception. I far prefer “Night Flower,” which reminded me more than a little of Beta Band, a similarity that even seeped into the following track, Temple-as-Feynman’s Trump commentary “Not My Guy.” A solid follow-up. A-

The Godfathers, “I’m Not Your Slave” b/w “Wild and Free” (Godfathers Recordings) The Godfathers kicked into loud raucous punkish gear way back in the mid-’80s UK and are probably remembered most for the title-track single to their ’88 debut Birth, School, Work, Death. They stuck it out until 2000, then reformed eight years later and remain extant, with singer Peter Coyne the leader and sole original member. This double A-side 45 is their latest, and it holds up strong and encourages repeated spins. The chunky, surly merger of pub-rock and working-class punk remains the band’s raison d’être, and in a world where Johnny Moped is still at, there need be no discussion over whether Coyne and company are too aged for the scene. “I’m Not Your Slave” delivers a brawny mid-tempo with appealing vocals, both lead and backing, while “Wild and Free” brings the Stooges-esque instrumental beef as Coyne’s lyrics explore a mindset worth aspiring to. B+

Luka Productions and Kandiafa, “Music From Saharan WhatsApp 06” (Sahel Sounds) The latest edition in Sahel Sounds’ digital-only, recorded on a cellphone and released the next day on Bandcamp, sleep and you’ll miss it (only available for one month) EP series is another all-around pleaser, and an entry that points back to the label’s LP release of Luka Productions’ sweet Falaw in May of 2019. Here, Luka Guindo, the Malian musician and producer who is Luka Productions, is captured in studio with the ace of the ngoni (i.e. the traditional Malian guitar) Abdoulaye “Kandiafa” Koné, and the four selections provide ample room for both to shine. With its sonic repetitions, opener “Negu” illuminates Guindo’s considerable rep in the Bamako Hip Hop scene, though Kandiafa is essential to every cut, with his solo flourishes a pure delight. I also dig the mallet vibes in “Ballani Diarra” and the slower, deeper atmosphere of “Ne Be Massa Wfo.” Best of all, this EP foretells a larger collab. Available until July 18. A-

Mantar, “Grungetown Hooligans II” EP (Brutal Panda) While I’m unfamiliar with the other work of this German metal duo, that really doesn’t matter much in relation to this set of covers, which, per the title, derive from the ’90s grunge era, featuring versions of two songs by L7 (“The Bomb” and “Can I Run”) and one each by Jesus Lizard (“Puss”), Sonic Youth (“100%”), Mazzy Star (“Ghost Highway”), Babes in Toyland (“Bruise Violet”), Mudhoney (“Who You Drivin’ Now”) and 7 Year Bitch (“Knot”). That Mantar play a particularly heavy and fairly contemporary brand of metal is still apparent, which is how it should be, I think, as the songs are still structurally recognizable, even (especially) the Mazzy cut, which, chosen from that outfit’s debut, is my favorite of the bunch. As I don’t spend much leisure time with Mantar’s brand of heaviness, I will admit that it took a few spins for this to fully take hold, but once it did it flowed pretty damn okay. I also appreciate the depth of attention to the gal (Grrl, even) side of the era. B+

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