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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Garcia Peoples, Nightcap At Wits’ End (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) The latest from these Rutherford, NJ-based expansionists doesn’t disappoint, but it does showcase their aptitude for relatively compact songs without squelching the fire of their outbound tendencies, and that’s just marvelous. As the band’s name underscores, Garcia Peoples soar from a late ’60s San Fran psych platform, and I’ll reinforce soaring rather than choogling unimaginatively, as have too many prior examples of neo-jam rocking; neither do they noodle. Nightcap At Wits’ End offers a dozen tracks totaling not quite 49 minutes (the longest cut lasting seven), but painstakingly recorded and assembled (across nine months with Jeff Zeigler) so that it can be absorbed as one long multifaceted ride. The attention to songs can lead me to think of the Airplane as much as (maybe even more than) the Dead, while the touches of Krautrock illuminate the avant underpinnings in their attack. There are even some non-toxic prog vibes on hand. After time spent, this one shapes up as Garcia Peoples’ best yet. A

Pavone String Ensemble, Lost and Found (Astral Spirits) This is the second release for the ensemble of violists Jessica Pavone and Abby Swidler and violinists Erica Dicker and Angela Morris, (Brick and Mortar, their debut came out last year on the Birdwatcher label), though Pavone has extensive experience both solo and in various collaborative situations, including membership in JOBS and four records with guitarist Mary Halvorson. String ensembles can’t help but tilt expectations toward the Classical, but Lost and Found, like its predecessor, spotlights diversity that situates the group’s music amid the overlapping realms of the avant-garde, experimentation and New Music. Classical music remains nearly synonymous with composition, and while Pavone is credited here as the composer (she is highly adept in this regard), her working method utilizes improvisation, but with an emphasis on collectivity within the pieces rather than promoting a solos-based (read: jazz) individualism. That’s a major factor in the magnificence of this set (which is available on CD and cassette), but so is the affinity for the Drone. A

Mary Lattimore, Silver Ladders (Ghostly International) The work of harpist Lattimore has been one of the sustained pleasures of the last decade, both in her own body of work, which commenced in 2012 with The Withdrawing Room, and in collaboration with others, notably Jeff Zeigler, Steve Gunn, and Thurston Moore. For this set, her third for Ghostly International, she is working with Slowdive’s Neil Halstead as producer and instrumentalist, with the sessions taking place across nine days in his studio in  Cornwall, England. To specialize in the harp is to embrace lushness and glisten, which Lattimore continues to do here to splendid effect, but as on prior releases, her pluck can be quite vigorous, and that’s even better, particularly in combination with the synths and Halstead’s guitar. A dark tone is discernible, but so are passages that border on psychedelia, and both in late track “Don’t Look.” Lattimore’s willingness to take chances has resulted in a career highlight. A

Linaire, S/T (Capital Zero) The songs are by Anna Atkinson, who also sings, along with playing Omnichord, viola, and keyboards. She is accompanied by Alexander MacSween on drum machines and additional keys, and this largely duo approach lands them halfway between synth pop and bedroom DIY, but with the wildcard that Atkinson sings with the bold verve reminiscent of artists with a far more commercial orientation. Her delivery lends uniqueness to the record, but flows naturally, as she has the pipes for it. However, it does provide a sharp contrast to many of the instrumental settings, which can strike my ear as analogous to the sort of projects that were getting released on home-recorded cassettes back in the early ’90s. A comparison has been made to Young Marble Giants, and that’s fair, except that Linaire resonates like it’s thoroughly Atkinson’s show. Also, “I’ll Buy You Lunch” reminded me a bit of a stray Magnetic Fields track. In summary, this LP starts out intriguing and then slowly impresses with the strength of its assemblage. A highly accomplished debut. A-

Dead Famous People, Harry (Fire) Formed in Auckland in 1986 and featuring the vocal and songwriting prowess of Dons Savage, Dead Famous People surfaced on the Flying Nun label with the “Lost Persons Area” 12-inch shortly thereafter; “Barlow’s House,” the lead track form that set, was on the Euro CD edition of the In Love With These Times compilation, which I bought in the US as an import, and served as my introduction to the band. Maybe it was yours, too. Or perhaps it was Arriving Late in Torn and Filthy Jeans, which, after a relocation to London, was released by Utility, the label of Billy Bragg. And no doubt many have enjoyed Savage’s singing on Saint Etienne’s cover of “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” by The Field Mice, or her backing vocals on The Chills’ masterful “Heavenly Pop Hit,” without knowing her by name.

This lack of recognition is unfortunate, as Savage’s talent is considerable and would most assuredly impress recent converts to indie pop classique, and for that matter, those smitten with the work of those Chills. But hey, in a twist of much needed good news, this set of freshly recorded material is likely to increase Savage’s profile, as it’s infused with chiming guitars and filled out with keyboards and even some horns, atop crisp, sturdy rhythmic foundations, the whole thing unfolding with nary a trace of rust. Instead, the songs thrive on the steadiness and smarts that come with experience, all while keeping a handle on the verve that made the old stuff such a treat. And so, Harry (named after her son, whom she raised in Auckland after returning from the UK) is not an approximation of past glories but a pure expression of where she’s at right now. And that’s pretty delightful from start to finish. A-

Egopusher, Beyond (Quiet Love) Zurich, Switzerland’s Egopusher are drummer-producer Alessandro Giannelli and violinist Tobias Preisig, with Beyond their sophomore full-length. Gianelli’s producer credit establishes club-based techno as a foundational aspect of Egopusher’s sound, with Preisig’s violin getting to the other main ingredient, that is, contemporary neo-classical. I’m on record as being a mite persnickety regarding neo-classical’s infrequent resemblance to “inspirational” music, but the inclination toward dance rhythms here takes this in a more agreeable direction to my ears, but that’s only part of it. Beyond came to me described as having a “Kubrick/ Tarkovsky soundtrack sound,” which perked my interest right up. And while it doesn’t hit the auditory heights heard in those director’s filmographies, the intent certainly registers, and that’s jake. And while the record starts out in groove territory, the music gradually sprawls forth and peaks late with the kosmische-tinged “Faint” and the neo-futuristic “Sheen,” which isn’t as polished as you might think given the title. Solid work. B+

Ellen Siberian Tiger, Cinderblock Cindy (Self-released) Based in Philly, PA, USA, Ellen Siberian Tiger self-describe as a “3-piece feminist indie rock band with orchestral and punk influences.” Soaking up this set, their sophomore effort and my introduction to their work, I can say that hits pretty close to the bullseye, except that I’ll note the orchestral side of the scheme is only fitfully manifested here in purely symphonic terms. Specifically, “For Better or Worse” does momentarily resonate a little like a ’90s Alternative arena rocking situation with string-section infusions, and that’s alright, because at its root, the songwriting is more than just okay. To expand, bigness of sound is well represented here, as Cinderblock Cindy is a boldly Hi-Fi release, though it never registers to my ear as slick. Electro elements are present but integrated nicely into the whole, which is quite appealingly guitar heavy, but again, all this transpires without Ellen Siberian Tiger losing a grip on the aforementioned strength of songwriting. And songs are the record’s strongest attribute.

Fronted with confidence by guitarist Ellen Tiberio-Shultz, who reminds me at moments of PJ Harvey (in combo with the electronics, a few spots had me specifically thinking of To Bring You My Love), late Cranberry Dolores O’Riordan (in general tone and delivery; see “Peach Pit”), and Shilpa Ray (particularly during the spoken swagger in the midst of the title-track), the overall thrust avoids ever connecting like a patchwork of prior touchstones, which fits with the objective to create “spaces in the musical landscape for healthy queer catharsis” and to encourage dialogue. Put another way, this is a record of right now. Across the set, bassist-synthesist Collin Dennen and drummer Rich Straube add crucial weight; I especially like the fuzzy bass tones in the title track. Structurally, a couple interludes brought an almost math rock approach to mind, and that’s great. Accomplished and energetic, it all comes together with a bang in rousing finale “Kitchen Knife.” Welcome sounds for troubling contemporary times. A-

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, “What I Did On My Long ‘Vacation’” (Northern Spy) This six-song EP, cut post-pandemic but remotely with the necessary precautions (guitarist-vocalist Ribot, bassist-keyboardist Shahzad Ismaily, and drummer-percussionist Ches Smith were never actually in the same room for the recording), serves as an appetizer for their upcoming full-length, scheduled for the spring of next year and featuring tracks from the same highly productive sessions (roughly four hours a day for a little over two weeks). Given the background and the NYC locale, the EP’s existence is an inspirational thing, especially as the trio (joined on opener “We Crashed in Norway” by saxophonist Darius Jones) aren’t hesitant to protest in a world that’s been severely fucked up by corruption and malice. The band’s instrumental skills are front and center across the set, with the tracks “Beer” and especially “The Hippies Are Not Nice Anymore” primo slabs of muscular art-punk. Released on CD and digital last week for Bandcamp Friday, the discs are already sold out, but hopefully another pressing is imminent. A-

Andre Salvador and the Von Kings, S/T (Last Night From Glasgow) The lowdown is that Salvador and the Von Kings is really “Tim Cheplick & friends” (this short descriptor snagged from the Bandcamp page), with a primary pal being drummer Paul Provenzano, who joined for the endeavor’s second full-length, 2017’s This Is Play (released on CD, as was the 2016 debut Rock and Roll Springtime; this new one has received an attractive vinyl pressing). Cheplick describes his/ their sound as “Craft Batch Indie Rock,” which is solid shorthand for a melodic guitar-based sound enhanced with keyboards, vocal harmonies and occasionally even horns and strings, that was obviously honed through numerous sessions in the ol’ practice space. The press materials mention Ladybug Transistor, but that’s one comparison amongst a few. That is, this set isn’t as ornate and/ or baroque as Gary Olson’s band was on the regular, but I will say that the songs do radiate a psych quality that reminds me a bit of mid-’90s Teenage Fanclub blended with the early Elephant 6 sound. And it’s highly consistent across a dozen selections. A-

Starless, Earthbound (Last Night From Glasgow) This is the second album as Starless by Scotland’s Paul McGeechan, who used to be in the bands Love and Money and before that Friends Again, which takes up all the way back to the New Wave era. Friends Again was a decidedly polished pop situation, but Starless is much grander in scale, indeed frequently described as cinematic, which in this case relates in large part to a symphonic quality, courtesy of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. To be sure, the string sweep is often effectively movie score vivid, which helps cultivate a focused sound on a record featuring a variety of vocalists from the Scottish scene, including Jerry Burns, Marie Clare Lee, Karliene, Julie Fowlis, Grahame Skinner of Hipsway, Emma Pollack of The Delgados, Steven Lindsay of The Big Dish, and Chris Thompson of The Bathers.

Thompson was also a member of Friends Again, with this connection only enhancing an aura of community that’s persistent across Earthbound’s runtime. On occasion, community blossoms into outright Scottishness, which has a definite appeal, even as a few of the vocalists lean into pop grandeur a little too enthusiastically for my tastes; this is especially the case with the two tracks sung by Lindsay, the bold emotional thrust of which brought me visions of large crowds swaying in unison from inside a spacious auditorium. Given his background, that McGeechan is aiming for such swells of feeling is unsurprising, and that he never loses track of the record’s instrumental ambitions is crucial, as it helps to keep matters on the positive side of the divide, if modestly. Which is to say, the comparisons to David Sylvian, Cocteau Twins, and the Blue Nile are apropos, though the whole never sustains the expectant highs a prospective mingling of those comparisons conjures up. A few spots do get in spitting distance, however. B

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