Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
Solid Bronze,
The Fruit Basket

The core of Solid Bronze is Ian Everett and George Miller, both New Jersey residents with a loud-and-clear love of the soulful and funky. This fact is evidenced on The Fruit Basket, their full-length debut, a deliciously off-kilter ’70s-styled groove-fest spiced with strains of jazziness, touches of reggae, and excursions into psychedelia. Recorded and co-produced by Dean Ween with notable guests including Atlanta-based hip-hop artist CLEW, Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley, Ween/ Blood, Sweat & Tears keyboardist Glenn McClelland, and Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist Michael Hampton, this last name is quite appropriate as the influence of P-Funk is strongly felt. It’s out now on LP via Schnitzel Records.

Earlier this year, Solid Bronze released a 45 featuring The Fruit Basket album track “The Invisible Man.” It was and remains an enjoyable little number, but it was backed with a dub mix of the track by Lee “Scratch” Perry, not in itself a bad thing (to the contrary, the version added to the general positive vibrations of Perry’s most recent comeback), it just didn’t necessarily provide further insight into Everett and Miller’s overall thing.

That Michael Hampton contributed guitar to “The Invisible Man” did present a clue into one possible avenue in Solid Bronze’s roadmap, though just as prominent in the track is the Auto-Tuned crooning of Atlanta rapper CLEW, along with a contrasting deep voice offering spoken smoothness of a decidedly ’70s comportment.

But The Fruit Basket’s opener “Papa’s Bug” jumps right into buoyant Clinton-esque funkiness with wiggly tech flourishes and unperturbed vocalizing that also nods back a bit to Sly Stone. It’s an appetizing start that’s followed by the slower groove of “The Invisible Man” as Hampton’s soloing accents the psychedelia in Solid Bronze’s equation. From there, “Hard to Keep the Faith” introduces a danceable mid-tempo spiked with saxophones and capped with sharp jazzy jaunts and an instrumental passage putting keyboards and additional rock guitar action squarely in the foreground.

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Graded on a Curve:
Patty Waters,
Live

No discussion of the 1960s avant-garde is complete without touching upon the work of singer Patty Waters, as she predated such vocal iconoclasts as Yoko Ono and Linda Sharrock. Additionally, she was a prime influence on Patti Smith and perhaps most pertinently, Diamanda Galas. Live, her latest and first new release on vinyl since 1966, was captured in performance at the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn on April 5, 2018 with the pianist from her debut Burton Greene, bassist Mario Pavone, and percussionist Barry Altschul. Dedicated to the great pianist Cecil Taylor on the day of his passing, its run of 1,000 LPs and 750 CDs is out September 20 via Blank Forms.

“People ask me (about) my influences, I would have to say Patty Waters. They say other people and I say, nahh, Patty Waters, listen to Patty Waters. I listened to her twice. That’s all it took for some grain of inextricable influence” —Diamanda Galas

Patty Waters’ two greatest albums, Sings from 1965 and College Tour from the following year, combine to secure her reputation as an avant vocal priestess of the first order. They were cut for the storied label ESP Disk, an enterprise known for its stable of fringe ’60s artifacts ranging from the proto out-rock of The Godz and Cromagnon, assorted strains of folk including The Fugs, Pearls Before Swine, The Holy Modal Rounders, Erica Pomerance, and Ed Askew, and most prominently, a ton of the era’s avant jazz; in fact, it was saxophonist Albert Ayler who introduced Waters to ESP’s owner-operator Bernard Stollman.

Instead of its deceptively plain title, her debut for the label could’ve been called The Vocal Extremities of Patty Waters, for its first side offered seven short tracks of hushed and isolated intensity, with Waters’ accompanying herself on piano, while the second held one side-long dive into the emotional abyss, with Waters working herself into a wailing screaming frenzy as Burton Greene plays piano and piano harp, Steve Tintweiss works the bass, and Tom Price delivers percussion.

Like many ESP Disk titles, the back cover stated, “You never heard such sounds in your life.” This was no exaggeration. Her detonation of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” still has the power to unnerve a room. While Sings has much in common with the ’60s free jazz movement, to simply label it as an out-jazz record does it and Waters a disservice. It’s undeniably an avant-garde experience, and I rate it as one of the decade’s very best.

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Graded on a Curve: Daniel Johnston,
Fun

Today we remember Daniel Johnston who passed away on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 with this look back from our archives.Ed.

Of all the fine stuff scheduled to hit the racks last week for Black Friday, one item particularly stood out in large part due to its belated appearance on vinyl. In all the excitement and hubbub of the holiday festivities, it was easy to miss the last minute cancellation of this record, shifting the focus below from an appreciation of a long-delayed vinyl slight to a consideration of a release whose LP coronation continues to be denied. The subject is Fun, the sole major-label entry in the discography of Daniel Johnston, originally issued by Atlantic Records in 1994. Hopefully its eventual emergence on vinyl comes sooner rather than later.

While I won’t be so bold as to say there was no middle ground, the reaction to Daniel Johnston’s original home recordings did largely run to extremes. On one hand, there were those who championed a new and startlingly unique pop singer-songwriter. On the other were the strident doubters and the often exasperated reactions of folks who considered it all a big put on.

Johnston’s advocates largely felt that his crudely recorded homemade cassettes were just as legitimate and deserving of attention as anything being produced for mass consumption in the spacious multi-track studios of the big label machine. Many listeners not smitten with his considerable output identified it as another example of underground tastemakers locating a marginal artist and then lording it over those with enough sense to not buy into the hype.

As more people became acclimated to the uniqueness of Johnston’s work, either through the stumping of music journalists and critics, the name dropping of assorted clued-in musicians, and via his now legendary appearance on MTV’s The Cutting Edge Happy Hour, where he performed during his lunch break at McDonalds, it started to become clear to some of the previously doubtful that the passionate reaction of so many was indeed sincere, the music having struck a deep chord. A fair number of these agnostics listened again, and what had initially sounded strange shifted into something special.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for September 2019, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for September, 2019. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Sequoyah Murray, Before You Begin (Thrill Jockey) Murray emerged earlier this year with the 4-song “Penalties of Love,” and this long-player fully delivers on the promise of the EP (only one cut, the title track of the prior release, is featured on Before You Begin). Initially, there was talk of Arthur Russell, and with the presence of cello in “Blue Jays” and “Let’s Take the Time,’ that’s still a relevant point of observation, though much more pertinent is Murray’s blend of soul/ R&B/ hip-hop/ trap and experimentation spurred from the Atlanta free-improv scene. Yes, this experimental side can swing us back to the topic of Russell, but the approach is thoroughly contempo (but occasionally utilizing vintage gear). I also dig how Murray plays around with a croon that recalls ’80s UK synth pop a bit. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Osondi Owendi (Hive Mind) By the time he’d released this utter beauty of Nigerian highlife in 1984, Osadebe had already chalked up a multi-decade career, having initially made his mark in ’59 with the hit “Lagos Life Na So So Enjoyment.” In fact, this record was something of a strategic stylistic adjustment for Osadebe, made in reaction to the upsurge of rock and funk on the Nigerian scene. The bandleader slowed it down, stretched it out (the LP features two side-long tracks), smartly borrowed contemporizing aspects from the rock and funk styles that had momentarily displaced him at the forefront of Nigerian music, and then dubbed this revamping oyolima. For anyone who digs the highlife style, Osondi Owendi is an absolute necessity. A

Rain Parade, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (Real Gone) This 1983 debut, the only LP made by the band’s original lineup, is a cornerstone of Paisley Underground architecture, as crucial to understanding the breadth of that movement as the debuts from the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, The Bangles, and the Three O’Clock (then called The Salvation Army). Featuring the brothers Stephen (bass) and David Roback (guitar, notably later of Mazzy Star), Matt Piucci (guitar), Eddie Kalwa (drums), and Will Glenn (multiple instruments), the band’s approach blended aspects of the L.A. scene (Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Love) with pop-angled psych (rooted in Nuggets and early Floyd rather than San Fran) to superb effect. If you’re into neo-psych and aren’t hip to Rain Parade, here’s an easy fix. A

Lee Hazlewood, 400 Miles from L.A. 1955-1956 (Light in the Attic) Discoveries of early, embryonic recordings by departed artists regularly reek of barrel-scrapings gussied up for completists and the manically obsessive, but these early home demo recordings of a youthful Hazlewood made in Phoenix, Arizona as he was attempting to infiltrate the music industry are insightful and a non-stop pleasure across four sides of vinyl (there’s also a deluxe bundle where the wax is gold and is accompanied with a silkscreen print, a travel journal, a shot glass and drink coasters). Lee is considerably less eccentric here, with the voice still deep and low but not as distinctively so as he later became. That’s alright. But much better than alright is the opportunity to hear Trouble is a Lonesome Town in early form. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Art Pepper,
Promise Kept: The Complete Artist House Recordings

In 1979, while in the midst of a career-capping comeback, Art Pepper entered the studio to cut a record for Artists House, the label of producer John Snyder. Indicative of how things sometimes work, one album became four, released across the 1980s, with numerous takes left in the can…until now. As part of Omnivore Recordings’ unflagging dedication to returning Pepper’s late work to easy accessibility, Promise Kept: The Complete Artist House Recordings hits stores on September 13, holding five CDs featuring across-the-board exceptional players in tandem with one of Modern Jazz’s finest saxophonists.

Promise Kept might seem like an unwieldy hunk of music to contend with, but if lengthy, it’s easily parsed as the work of two top-flight bands comprising two sessions on opposing coasts (with distinct temperaments to match) as Pepper made good on a commitment to record an LP for Snyder’s small but consistently rewarding label (a handful of classics reside in its discography).

As said, four albums resulted, though only So in Love, the first, was actually issued by Artists House. The subsequent three, Artworks, New York Album, and Stardust came out after Pepper’s death via Galaxy and Victor in 1984-’85. With the exception of take two of “But Beautiful,” the entirely of disc five (titled simply Sessions) is previously unreleased.

Snyder, a jazz aficionado who circa the 1970s was also Creative Director for Horizon, the jazz label of A&M Records, had booked a tour for Pepper in ’77 that included gigs at the Village Vanguard. The success of those gigs instilled a desire in Snyder to record Pepper live at the storied New York club with an all-star group.

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Graded on a Curve:
Howlin Rain,
Under the Wheels: Live from the Coasts, Vol. 1

Hailing from Oakland, CA, Howlin Rain’s heavy-acid-jam rock suggests the last 45 years never happened. If you’ve ever gotten so drawn in by the outbound firepower of an early ’70s Grateful Dead tape that you forgot about the portabella mushrooms and tofu pups you were grilling during a late-summer weekend cookout, it suffices to say that Howlin Rain should cruise right down your boulevard. Under the Wheels: Live from the Coasts, Vol. 1, the first in a new live series, is a fine point of entry into the band’s thing, but don’t dilly dally around, as there are only 1,000 copies total in assorted color variations and handmade micro editions, all available now through Silver Current Records.

Howlin Rain is Ethan Miller (formerly of Comets on Fire) on guitar and lead singing, Dan Cervantes on guitar, Jeff McElroy on bass, and Justin Smith on drums (Smith, McElroy, and Cervantes all contribute backing vocals). They debuted with an eponymous LP on Birdman Records way back in 2006 and have released a bunch of material since, a significant portion of it capturing them in performance, so this live album series isn’t exactly a novel concept.

You see, Howlin Rain know what they do well. The studio records they’ve released over the last 13 years are all worthwhile, and a couple, like The Alligator Bride from last year, are borderline excellent, but that’s still not the same as getting on stage and letting loose in communion with a crowd that’s thoroughly focused on the occasion. And this surely reinforces the Dead comparison above, a connection Howlin Rain has openly made themselves, but it’s really only part of their overall sound.

The PR for The Alligator Bride did specifically reference Europe ’72, but that was in tandem with a mention of UK hard rockers Free. And that lines right up with a 45 they recorded back in 2012 that dished “When the Morning Comes” (from American Beauty) on the A-side and The James Gang’s “Collage” on the flip. So, we’re talking lysergic but with a powerful thrust; stretching out to over ten minutes, Under the Wheels’ instrumental opener “To the Wind” gets right in the thick of this heady-heavy mix.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for September 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for September, 2019. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: Fahmi Mursyid, One Instrument Sessions (One Instrument) Mursyid is a Bandung, Indonesia-based composer, sound designer and producer. The third vinyl installment in this label’s documentation of their modus operandi (which has a much larger bi-weekly digital presence on Soundcloud) underscores that Mursyid is also a player of distinction. The One Instrument label’s guidelines are that for each released composition the artist can use only one instrument, though there are additional parameters: yes to volume adjustments, compression, EQ, reverb, multilayering, multiple patches (but only of the same instrument), sequencing and editing, no to any effects besides reverb (meaning no delay or distortion) and no to sampling.

I say that Mursyid is solidly a player, as for each of this record’s six selections he engages with a different instrument, so folks worried over a possible lack of tonal variety (i.e. monotony) can rest easy. The half-dozen axes, all acoustic, are in order: the saron, the kendang, the piano (a Rösler model from the ’50s), the karinding, the bonang, and the pan flute. That’s a high ratio of choices associated with gamelan music. Indeed, Mursyid consciously selected instruments with a connection to the culture of the Sudanese, who are the second largest ethnic group in Indonesia. While some undeniable gamelan vibes do emerge as this tidy set (at 25 minutes) unwinds, more prevalent is the aura of experimentation, or perhaps better said, of consistently tapped-into possibilities. And that’s the point, y’know? A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Omara Portuondo, Buena Vista Social Club Presents: Omara Portuondo (World Circuit) At 70 years of age upon this record’s release in 2000, the great Cuban vocalist Omara Portuondo, who’d received widespread exposure as part of Wim Wenders’ film Buena Vista Social Club and its soundtrack, delivered a set of impeccable performances in tandem with a band of unfailing brilliance including a full string section and guest spots from pianist Rubén González and singer Ibrahim Ferrer. She’s often called the Edith Piaf of Cuba, and as this recording plays it’s easy to understand the comparison; Portuondo achieves an essentially perfect balance of stateliness and deep feeling, all while exuding utter poise in the spotlight. On vinyl for the first-time, this is a life-affirming delight. A

Ali Farka Touré, Savane (World Circuit) Sometimes, a great artist’s final work falls a bit short of the heights of quality that established the artist’s rep. Depending on circumstances at the time of release, slack is often cut, and this is occasionally totally appropriate. However, there is no need for adjustments in assessment regarding Savane, which was released in July of 2006, four months after the death of the pioneering Malian desert blues guitarist. Part of why is that it’s a focused effort; Touré was suffering from cancer at the time of Savane’s making (cut on the top floor of the Hôtel Mandé and produced by Nick Gold), and along the way a statement of finality takes hold. But Savane’s enduring stature mainly derives from the playing and singing of Touré, as wonderful at the end of his life as it ever was before. A

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Graded on a Curve:
Love,
Reel to Real

Circa the mid-’70s Arthur Lee was in the midst of tough times; never a marketplace powerhouse, his critical reputation took a long nosedive post-Forever Changes as his album Black Beauty was languishing in the can. Offered a contract by Robert Stigwood’s RSO Records, Lee reassembled his band and set to work. Detouring from the hard rock of his preceding releases, Reel to Real disregarded familiar garage or psychedelic territory for an unexpected and for some perplexing soul/rock milieu. Few heard the final product.

A little punkish and considerably Byrds-like, Love’s self-titled arrival from March of ’66 endures as one of the stronger debuts of its decade; opening with the emo-purge throttling of Bacharach and David’s “My Little Red Book” and following with over half a dozen gems and no clunkers, the LP consistently wields aspects of Los Angelino garage beginnings as an advantage. For evidence, look no further than “Hey Joe,” a burner arguably on par with the ’65 version by the Leaves and the famous slowed-down take that introduced the world to the Jimi Hendrix Experience in ‘66.

Roughly eight months after Love appeared Elektra unleashed Da Capo, an expanded lineup pursuing psychedelia and baroque pop while retaining the punk edge on “7 and 7 Is,” though it bears noting that particular song, issued as a classic single in July of ’66, derived from an earlier session. Its second side taken up with a 19 minute blues jam (working title: “John Lee Hooker”), many peg Da Capo as half great; irrefutably an indulgence, “Revelation” is nowhere near the blunder its biggest detractors claim it to be, instead illuminating the breadth of the group’s rapid-fire metamorphosis.

A year did elapse before the emergence of Love’s consensus masterpiece, and given its level of ambition, it’s not difficult to see why; Forever Changes ranks amongst the most vivid and boldly scaled epics produced by the ’60s pop-rock renaissance, and if a commercial failure in relation to expectations, it’s become an undying cult item and a frequent entry on lists of the Greatest Records of All Time.

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Graded on a Curve: Pram, The Stars Are So Big, the Earth Is So Small…Stay as You Are and Helium

Although long defunct, throughout the 1990s the UK label Too Pure promulgated a sweet heaping mess of worthwhile musical activity; most illustrious in the outpouring were PJ Harvey and Stereolab, but numerous additional acts fortified the scenario, and amongst the finest was Pram. Formed in Birmingham, England in 1990, the experimental pop outfit released three full-lengths on Too Pure, and the first two, ’93’s The Stars Are So Big, the Earth Is So Small…Stay as You Are and the following year’s Helium received 180gm pressings in 2016 by Medical Records of Seattle, WA.

Pram initially came together in the late ‘80s under the name Hole. Eventually their founding members, namely Rosie Cuckston on vocals and keyboards, Matt Eaton on guitar, Samantha “Sam” Owen on bass, and Andy Weir on drums, changed the moniker to Pram, and their first recordings wielded an abrasive, nervous quality derived from indie rock and traceable back to their home country’s post-punk innovators, in particular The Slits and The Raincoats.

As part of the upside-down musical landscape of the early ’90s, Pram has surely been categorized as one component in the truly seismic indie explosion. But instead of being tidily indicative of the ’80s underground’s absorption into the mainstream of the ensuing decade, the group can be accurately tagged as prescient; circa ’88 as Hole their sound reportedly sprang entirely from vocals and a homemade Theremin.

Pram has been described as everything from experimental pop/rock to neo-psychedelia to dream pop, but they seem best pegged as an early example of post-rock (though at least one member of the band disagrees) as they adopted a wide range of atypical instrumentation, borrowed ideas from a Krautrock and post-punk antecedents, honed their skills as multi-instrumentalists and then strove to not sound like anyone else.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
August 2019, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for August, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Andrew Munsey, High Tide (Birdwatcher) Munsey is a drummer, composer, producer, and with the release of this often-superb quintet debut, solidly established as a jazz bandleader. His counterparts for the record are Steph Richards on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ochion Jewell on tenor saxophone and kalimba, Amino Belyamani on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Sam Minaie on double bass, and they cover broad territory across 11 compositions, all Munsey originals save for Stravinsky’s “Les Cinq Doigts: Lento,” while settling into a hearty zone that’s thoroughly “advanced” without tipping over into the avant-garde. However, assorted nudges; a blown line here, an abstract passage there, and numerous crescendos of intensity, do acknowledge jazz’s outside, and that’s cool.

There are more than a couple of spots where Richards reminds me of ’60s Don Cherry, which deepens the coolness considerably. But Munsey the composer clearly expands upon the structural jazz richness of the ’60s-’70s. I threw the quotes around advanced above in part because I was reminded of the “advanced bop” that Blue Note specialized in during the ’60s (this was also when Cherry recorded for the label). Belyamani on Rhodes brought forth thoughts of Corea, but on the straight keys my attention turned to Andrew Hill, though this is reinforced by the strength of Munsey’s composing. To his and the band’s credit, they aren’t shy over straight beauty moves, and we can all use some beauty in 2019. It’s out tomorrow digitally and on CD but also on double vinyl, so wax-loving fans of new jazz take note. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Arlo Guthrie, Alice’s Restaurant: OST (50th Anniversary Edition) (Omnivore) Every season has its appropriate sounds, and as fall nears that’s mainly Halloween stuff, but due to its association with Thanksgiving, Alice’s Restaurant has become an autumnal standard. I’m talking about the original song/ album, but folks craving a fresh spin on Guthrie’s mammoth story-tune should look into this set on CD or 2LP. In my memory, Arthur Penn’s film of the tale, which starred Guthrie, wasn’t very good. This expanded byproduct of the movie is much better. The song is done numerous times, intermingled with bluegrass-tinged instrumental bits, a group-sung “Amazing Grace,” Pete Seeger, and Tigger Outlaw’s version of Joni’s “Song to Aging Children.” Not a mindblower, but very likeable. B+

Vince Guaraldi, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Craft) This wasn’t necessarily what I was referencing with the above mention of Halloween stuff, but you really can’t get more seasonal than this set, which is making its vinyl debut. That factoid might seem crazy, but please understand that the music totals all of 20 minutes; it’s all on side one, with an etching of Linus’ obsession on the flip. Also of note: it glows in the dark. While the iconic “Linus and Lucy” and “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” are here, most of the rest is quite short and even fragmentary. But hey, what these collected pieces might lack in fully developed flow they make up for in sheer joyous-jazzy ambiance. The aura is amiable, maybe too much so for some serious jazzbos, and includes fluting, which is no surprise as he was a West Coast guy. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Kid Millions &
Sarah Bernstein,
Broken Fall

Broken Fall is the latest release from the improvising duo of Kid Millions, aka John Colpitts, and Sarah Bernstein. Across its seven tracks, she saws the violin and vocalizes while he batters the drums but good; together they heave forth a sound of wild abstraction drawing upon the traditions of experimental noise, free rock and avant-garde jazz. Heavy, lithe, raw and spirited, it’s out August 30 on vinyl and digital through 577 Records.

Kid Millions has drummed in a whole lot of contexts and has amassed an ample discography. In addition to handling the rhythms for experimental rock vets Oneida, he operates the bountiful solo project Man Forever, is half of the Oneida splinter duo People of the North with Bobby Matador, and has collaborated on record numerous times with Borbetomagus saxophonist Jim Sauter and as Fox Millions Duo with Guardian Alien drummer Greg Fox.

And of course, he’s half of Broken Fall’s powerhouse gush alongside violinist-composer-improviser-poet Sarah Bernstein. Originally from San Francisco, the NYC-based multitasker Bernstein has considerable varied credits solo (Exolinger), duo (Unearthish), trio (Day So Far, Iron Dog, Sarah Bernstein Trio), and quartet (Veer Quartet, Sarah Bernstein Quartet), plus a wide range of chamber works (from violin solo to large ensemble to orchestra) and film scores.

Amongst the descriptors Bernstein employs to communicate her thing: avant-jazz, experimental pop, and noise. And so, a seeming natural fit with Colpitts, with the fruits of their pairing abundant of Broken Fall. Actually, those hip to Tense Life, Millions and Bernstein’s prior collab for 577, which came out in 2017 on cassette in an edition of 50 (still available digitally on Bandcamp), were cognizant of their creative harmoniousness already.

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Graded on a Curve:
Peter Laughner,
Peter Laughner

In the annals of punk rock, Peter Laughner has really been more of a mythic figure than a prime musical influence. While he was a member of two crucial Cleveland punk bands (Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu), his recorded output has been somewhat slight. The key word in that last sentence is output. Smog Veil’s eponymous 5LP/5CD box set makes plain what heavy-duty Laughner heads have long known; he recorded a whole lot, but just had very little commercially released, even posthumously. This enlightening and highly digestible labor of love from a diligently Ohio-focused label expands his output in both size and range. Featuring a 100-pg hardcover book, it’s one of the best multidisc sets of 2019.

Ten years is a long time. Certainly not in the grand sweep of history, but the statement still rings true; we denote blocks of ten years as decades, and a decade is how long Smog Veil has been working on Peter Laughner. Ten years can build up a whole lot of anticipation, and by extension, unsurmountable expectations, but that’s not how it transpired here.

Up to the eve of its release, there seemed to be hardly any hubbub attached to this project, which fits with Laughner’s essentially underground stature. If you know and care about the man’s work, you likely know a lot about early punk, and there’s a good chance you knew this set was in production. Anticipation likely resulted, but in keeping with the circumstances of Laughner’s life, it was probably best to not get too optimistic.

24 years is 14 more than ten, but in demarking the span of a lifetime, it’s not very long at all, at least in modern terms. And 24 years is how long Peter Laughner lived. A big part of his mythic stature stems from his death from acute pancreatitis, a condition that indicates that he drank (and yes indeed, drugged) himself to death. Since then, many have surely romanticized his demise, but he’s just as often simply one more entry in rock ‘n’ roll’s long list of casualties.

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Graded on a Curve:
Led Zeppelin,
Mothership

Few bands are in less need of an introduction than Led Zeppelin. For roughly a decade they reigned, helping to establish hard rock as a profitable genre as they trashed hotel rooms, gallivanted with groupies, and impacted heavy music right up to the nonce. Mothership is less of an intro than stardom’s inevitable career summary and exercise in remastering; it’s no substitute for their great albums, but it does glean two dozen selections from the corpus, many of them excellent, and spreads them across a pair of CDs or four 180gm LPs.

Anthologizing a onetime rock radio fixture and by extension youthful music hound’s rite of passage, it can seem Mothership’s contents generally resist commentary. And yet the notion of nothing left to say is simply a falsehood; love, hate, ambivalence, or indifference, no matter the viewpoint Led Zeppelin remain indisputably important, and on 20 days their oeuvre can be approached from 20 different if not wholly distinct angles, making these 24 tracks quite useful as an impetus for observations.

“Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” (their debut US single!) succinctly emphasize Zep’s crucial hand in the formulation of hard rock and do so without really highlighting the essential blues component in their personality. But don’t let’s get ahead of ourselves; the Jake Holmes-lift “Dazed and Confused” (a.k.a. Drum Fill 101) does illustrate their adeptness in swiping preexisting, and to put it politely, often unacknowledged sources.

So too does “Babe I’m Going to Leave You,” written by Anne Bredon (the version found on Joan Baez in Concert, Part 1 is reportedly the inspiration) and not traditional as it was credited for years (in fairness by Baez as well as Zep). It provides adequate early representation of the band’s folky aspects and rounds out Led Zeppelin’s entries rather nicely.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
August 2019, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for August, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Slumberland Singles Subscription Series |  These are the freshest two installments from this 30th anniversary project, copies of which will also be available in stores.

Wildhoney, “Naïve Castle” b/w “Kiss Me” Formerly from Baltimore and now on the West Coast, Wildhoney have dialed back their reported earlier shoegaze orientation a good bit. Well, on the A-side here, they’ve dialed it back a whole lot, as the tune is chiming Sundays-esque pop that could easily fit on mainstream radio except for the late boost of distortion that makes clear their ‘gazey sensibility hasn’t disappeared entirely. There’s also a roughly two-minute ambient kosmische finish that’s readymade for Hearts of Space. I like it, but, ahem, speaking of pop radio, I’m far more taken with a version of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me” that reduces the original’s wispiness in favor of budget tech and an amply hazy finale. Avoiding the cutesy pop cover impulse, it completes a winning circular combination. A-

Smiles, “Gone for Good” b/w “This Boy” Smiles is a Bay Area proposition, though I agree with the assessment made in Slumberland’s PR notes that in its power-pop approach the 45 resonates like a byproduct of the Southeastern USA; that means Big Star, but I also hear their mention of Dwight Twilley. By extension, “Gone for Good” is destined to give adorers of the Teenage Fanclub a considerable thrill, so folks who fit that description should step right up to this platter whether or not they’re inclined to check out the entire subscription series. Barely breaking two minutes, the flip is not a gyp but is instead just the right dose of guitar-pop goodness, reinforcing this platter as in the lineage of 45s that’re bought for a buck and after played at home make you feel like you won the lottery. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: House Guests, My Mind Set Me Free (Shake It!) After working with James Brown, where they were called the Original JB’s, and prior to becoming part of Funkadelic as led by George Clinton, there was the House Guests, featuring brothers William “Bootsy” and Phelps “Catfish” Collins on bass and guitar respectively, Frank Waddy on drums, Clayton Gunnels on trumpet, and Robert McCollough on sax. The cut a couple of 45s in 1971 (one as House Guests Rated X), which are compiled on this set along with subsequent work from the groups Bootsy, Phelps & the Complete Strangers and Bootsy Phelps and Gary (as this group presaged Bootsy’s Rubber Band, I’m guessing the third named is Gary “Mudbone” Cooper).

From the opening title track complete with its lift from the Mission Impossible theme, this is as imaginative as it is funky, with the modest production values keeping things from getting too slick. The early stuff leans nearer to Brownian groove density, though “What So Never to Dance” has a celebratory atmosphere that will be great for late-summer parties. I don’t have recording notes handy (notably, this is the first time this stuff’s been legitimately reissued), but it seems to be following a roughly chronological progression, inching toward Funkadelic-style wildness along the way, and while “Be Right Back” had me momentarily worried that (as on many comps) the late stuff here was going to be of lesser interest, “Say Something Good” swings matters upward in a big way as the set rolls to a sweet finale. A-

V/A, Bedford-Stuyvesant Youth in Action Community Corporation Talent Hunt Winners (Big Crown) A reissue as enjoyable as it is historical. The ten songs here (plus a short introduction by Reverend Horace Tyler) are the byproduct of Youth in Action, Inc., a grant-funded community organization that achieved numerous goals including a musical talent contest. Having chosen a song to cover, with a focus on soul/R&B, the winning groups were subsequently backed in the studio by the Thrillers Band, who get to strut their stuff via instrumental theme song as faux crowd noise is mixed in to replicate the ambiance of the original performances. The subsequent cuts document a surfeit of skill in ’60s Bed-Stuy; in fact, I’d say this would fit quite nicely into a listening rotation of ’60s regional soul comps. A-

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Graded on a Curve: Alexander Tucker,
Guild of the Asbestos Weaver

A native of Kent, England, Alexander Tucker’s musical roots span back to hardcore in the 1990s, but he’s come to prominence through the interweaving of drone, electroacoustic elements, psychedelia, post-industrial ambiance and honest-to-goodness songs. Tucker’s latest solo effort (he’s also part of Grumbling Fur) is Guild of the Asbestos Weaver, his eighth full-length and the fourth to be released by Thrill Jockey. Offering five expansive tracks and a “classic” album runtime, the contents blend focused experimentation and trad tunesmithing to a result that’s as inviting as it is edgy. It’s out on vinyl, compact disc, and digital August 23.

The title of Alexander Tucker’s new record derives from the underground opposition in Ray Bradbury’s dystopian science-fiction classic Fahrenheit 451, a borrowing that’s representative of the artist’s stated desire to combine his longstanding interest in sci-fi and “cosmic horror” (from comic art, filmic and literary forms) with minimalism, drone and dream music.

To elaborate on that last style, it’s not dream-pop Tucker is tapping into but rather, explicitly stated, the “Dreamweapon” modus operandi of Angus MacLise, a legendary 1960s NYC-based percussionist-composer who was part of La Monte Young’s groundbreaking drone endeavor the Theater of Eternal Music. MacLise died in 1979, and it took roughly two decades for recordings (both under his own name and as a part of Young’s group) to become commercially available.

Still, MacLise’s biggest claim to “fame” (notably a goal he never strived for) is as an inaugural member of the Velvet Underground; that no recordings featuring his contribution survive from this era only adds to his mythic stature. As mentioned above, the impact of MacLise’s aesthetic on Guild of the Asbestos Weaver is right there in Thrill Jockey’s promo text, and it’s worth expanding upon due to Tucker’s similarity, both vocally and compositionally, to MacLise’s associate John Cale.

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