Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: Independent Project Records, Source

Independent Project Records was started in 1980 by Bruce Licher of the bands Savage Republic and Scenic. The records of both figure prominently in the label’s discography, a body of work that’s additionally noted for attractive letterpress packaging designed in partnership with Independent Project Press. Having explored a distinctive post-punk niche from the ’80s into the early 2000s, IPR returned to activity last year. Source, a freshly available 79-minute compact disc, features various artists spanning the label’s past, present and future and rounds up rare and unreleased material in the bargain. Its contents are considered below.

I suppose I’m not alone in getting introduced to Independent Project Records through Camper Van Beethoven, as their debut album Telephone Free Landslide Victory, came out on IPR in 1985, while three years later, Independent Project Press designed the cover of Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, the band’s fourth album, which was released by Virgin in 1988.

But if IPR can be said to have a particular sound, it’s surely in the vicinity of Savage Republic and Scenic, the two highest-profile bands of the label’s founder Bruce Licher, with Savage Republic extant, amid stops and starts, from 1982-’90 and producing four studio LPs through that period. As bands are known to do, Savage Republic reformed in the 2000s, adding three more albums to the oeuvre, although I don’t think Licher plays on them (he did design their cover art).

Scenic emerged in the mid-’90s, releasing three full-lengths that can be synopsized as instrumental-atmospheric expansions upon ideas Licher first articulated in Savage Republic and in numerous other outfits prior to that band, none included on Source. First there was Neef (releasing a cassette and a 7-inch in 1979, pre-IPR but reissued by the label in ’84). Next; Project 197 (recording a 7-inch, IPR’s first release, in 1980) and Bridge (also cutting a 45, IPR’s second release, the same year). Nearest to Savage Republic’s formation was Them Rhythm Ants (putting out one 7-inch EP, IPR’s third release, in 1981).

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Graded on a Curve:
Peter Laughner,
Peter Laughner

Remembering Peter Laughner, born on August 22 in 1952.Ed.

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. 

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: New in Stores for August 2021, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for August 2021. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lung, Come Clean Right Now (Sofaburn) On the Cincinnati-based Lung’s third album (and the first I’ve heard), the sound reminds me quite a bit of the Alt-indie-grunge ’90s. This will surely not be an enticing proposition for some, but let me add that the lineup consists of cellist-vocalist Kate Wakefield and drummer Daisy Caplan. Other than some guest vocals on “Wave” by Paige Beller, it’s just the two of them throughout, which lends distinctiveness to the record to be sure, though it’s impressive how stretches of Come Clean Right Now conjure the heavy forward motion of a full band. Seriously, a couple times I thought of Helmet, and once, Lung’s thud even brought the Melvins to mind. They complement the rumble and pound with songwriting and singing that’s decidedly art-rocky, but to circle back, in a very ’90s way. The record is also a consistently strong listen, likely because it’s not too fucking long, which is a ’90s-era facet they wisely haven’t adopted. That makes Come Clean Right Now a far more satisfying listen than a whole lot of records people are known to swoon over nostalgically. A-  

Los Psychosis, Rock and Roll Dreams (Black & Wyatt) Featuring Javi Arcega on lead vocals and guitar, the Memphis-based Los Psychosis came to me described as Latinx psychobilly, which I’ll confess had me a little worried purely in genre terms, as most psychobilly is about as personally appealing as getting a can of baked beans shoved up my ass. I’m not talking about The Cramps, a band that I adore, and who I don’t consider to be psychobilly, anyway. For that matter, Los Psychosis don’t remind me of psychobilly either, as they are far too stylistically broad, while keeping a firm handle on the rootsy and also punked-up spit and fire. There’s a swampy aura to much of this set leading me to suggest that fans of The Gun Club and The Flesh Eaters will find Rock and Roll Dreams to their liking, but additionally, the druggy quality of tunes like “Hoppin and Jumpin” and “Ana” tempts me to call this psychedelic-billy, which is a sound I totally support. Plus, “Dionysus Wave” hits like a self-released new wave single from ’79, and “El Vacio” delivers some scuzzy Tex-Mex action. Some of the singing even reminds me of Darby. Weeee! A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Hocine Chaoui, Ouechesma (Outre National) This and the record directly below are the first releases on this label out of Montreuil, a commune located in an eastern suburb of Paris, though there is a connection to a distribution company of the same name that handles such heavyweights as Subline Frequencies, Superior Viaduct, and Akuphone. This LP delivers a remastered version of a cassette that was first released by Oriental Music Production, a French-based Algerian label (now defunct but with a slew of tapes still available), that specialized in reissuing some of the country’s regional output from the ’70s and ’80s. Like this killer serving of the Berber style known as Chaoui, which originated in the Aurès region of Algeria, first recorded in the ’30s and updated here by Hocine Chaoui with drum machines and modern production. The driving nature of the programmed rhythms intensifies a style of music that was clearly quite powerful already. Along the way, horn lines fervently wiggle as the singing is appropriately emphatic. Altogether a fine kickoff to Outre National’s discography. A-

Henri Guédon, Karma (Outre National) This is the first-time vinyl reissue of a 1975 LP, the second album from Guédon, a versatile artist (musician, painter, sculptor) from the Caribbean island of Martinique. With Karma, Guédon cooks up a potent dish of Latin Jazz that’s noted for its frequent injections of vintage synth, courtesy of Jaky Bernard. While this aspect of the band’s overall thrust is undeniably dated, that’s not to the album’s detriment. To the contrary, those spacy reverberations (splurts and flatulence that wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack to a late-’70s exploitation flick) do add significant value, though without the band’s collective rhythmic moxie and Michel Pacguit’s skills at the keyboard, the synth would be little more than a novelty. Along with leading the band and adding percussion on a variety of instruments (from cowbell to balafon), Guédon sings, and if he’s not a powerhouse vocalist, he gets the job done. This was originally released on the La Voix Du Globe label out of Paris, where it flew under the radar a bit, it seems. In other words, this is a worthy reissue. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
GA-20 Does Hound
Dog Taylor: Try It…
You Might Like It!

Boston trio GA-20 have made a name for themselves as purveyors of prime blues-R&B-R&R rawness, with a studio debut and a live follow-up EP under their belts. Now here comes GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It…You Might Like It!, a tribute to one of the true kingpins of electrified slide guitar scorch and unbridled dive bar mayhem. For the uninitiated, this might read as smooth sailing executed through the reliable gesture of paying tribute, but please understand that doing right by the Hound Dog is much tougher than it might seem. That GA-20 pull it off is a kickass circumstance. The record is out August 20 on vinyl in a handful of variations, plus compact disc and digital through Colemine Records and Alligator Records.

The blues is often celebrated and sometimes denigrated for its stylistic directness and lack of frills, but in reality, it’s a far more complex and diverse form of musical expression than many acknowledge. On the wild and distorted end of spectrum sits the 1971 debut album by Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers, secure in its placement as one of the very greatest full-length electric blues records.

It is in fact my favorite blues LP that’s not a compilation of singles, and in the 50 years since its emergence as Alligator Records’ first release, I don’t think its level of quality has been surpassed. Now, some folks might be thinking that my identification of guitarist Taylor, second guitarist Brewer Phillips, and drummer Ted Harvey as the half-century reigning champs of booze joint blues sizzle doesn’t reflect well on the general health of the style, but I will add that a few LPs have gotten into the same ballpark since.

But let’s set those examples aside for another time, as the matter here is how GA-20, an act comprised of guitarist Matt Stubbs, guitarist-vocalist Pat Faherty, and drummer Tim Carman, have delivered a wholly worthy tip of the hat to such an iconic blues band. The reasons are numerous, with just for starters GA-20’s instrumental configuration of two guitars (no bass), drums and vocals mirroring, and very possibly deliberately adopting, the Houserockers’ same setup.

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Graded on a Curve:
XTC, “3D EP”

Celebrating Colin Moulding, born on this day in 1955.Ed.

In their early days XTC released a copious amount of singles, with this output appropriately corralled onto a handful of compilations situating the band as one of the more interesting acts produced in the late-‘70s UK. Amongst these songs were the three cuts that comprise their debut, ‘77’s “3D EP.” Many consider it as a strong but minor first effort in a scenario of future greatness, but investigating them apart from the group’s initial prolific tide provided this writer with the key that unlocked XTC’s substantial value.

By the time I became acquainted with them in the mid-‘80s, XTC was essentially a critics’ fave and one that was largely functioning as an album band. This was the era of Skylarking, and while “Dear God,” the b-side of that LP’s first single “Grass,” kicked up quite a bit of dust via MTV and even replaced “Mermaid Smiled” on the US version of the disc, in the US it only managed to land on a now defunct barometer of radio play named the Billboard Album Rock Chart, where it found modest success.

And on their home turf it barely even entered the Singles Chart, peaking at the severe back end at #99. This really is no surprise, since “Dear God” is a truly eloquent dispatch of religious disbelief, a song that likely would’ve caused their countryman Bertrand Russell to stand up and cheer had he only lived to hear it.

“Dear God” was so cogent (while simultaneously manifesting a well-harnessed anger) that more than a few believers in my personal circle considered it a legitimate expression of doubt and questioning rather than quickly dismissing it as merely sacrilegious. The tune’s that good. But even though ‘86’s Skylarking and its follow up Oranges & Lemons were both strong sellers and the group was very popular on college radio, the rise of their singles during this period seemed mainly tied to video play.

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Graded on a Curve: British Jazz Explosion: Originals Re-Cut

British Jazz Explosion: Originals Re-Cut is a new series from the Decca label that’s focused on noteworthy but hard to come by (and therefore, wholly deserving of reissue) albums, all from the UK and in the titular style. Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972), a compilation detailing the series’ objectives into 2022, along with the Don Rendell Quintet’s Space Walk, came out on July 16, followed by Ken Wheeler and the John Dankworth Orchestra’s Windmill Tilter (The Story Of Don Quixote) on August 13, and with The New Jazz Orchestra’s Le Dejeuner Sur l’Herbe set for release on September 10. Everything’s available on vinyl and digital, with the compilation also out on 2CD. All four are considered below.

Some of the higher profile names associated with British jazz include trad clarinet stylist Acker Bilk, bop saxophonists Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott (he of the famed club), and guitarist John McLaughlin. Although both were born in Jamaica, trumpeter Dizzy Reece and saxophonist Joe Harriott are both noted as residents of the UK (Reece later moved to the US, as did McLaughlin, later).

British Jazz Explosion provides a deeper dive into the scene the players named above helped to define. Journeys in Modern Jazz: Britain (1965-1972) establishes the timeframe and the series’ contributors, opening with “Don the Dreamer” from Windmill Tilter (The Story Of Don Quixote), the 1969 album that served as trumpeter-flugelhornist-composer Kenny Wheeler’s debut as leader.

More accurately, Wheeler’s co-billed with saxophonist and bandleader Johnny Dankworth, with whom he’d recorded often, beginning in 1959 on Bundle From Britain, which documented a live performance by Dankworth’s orchestra from that year’s Newport Jazz Festival (it does appear that Wheeler’s first recording dates from 1956 as part of Tommy Whittle’s Orchestra, the 10-inch album Spotlighting).

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Graded on a Curve:
The Beastie Boys,
“Love American Style”

Remembering Adam Yauch, born on this day in 1964.Ed.

With the Love American Style EP, The Beastie Boys gave the public a small taste of their new and improved direction. Some ears were ready and many were not, but this twelve-inch contained a tidy morsel of a true hip-hop classic.

In retrospect, Licensed to Ill came on like a ton of bricks. Out of the blue the group just seemed to suddenly be everywhere; on stereos and television naturally, but also in magazines, in car tape decks, as the soundtrack to parties, in the parking lot at school. This level of saturation wasn’t all that unusual, for the same sort of situation happened with Purple Rain, Thriller, Madonna’s debut and Born in the USA. Unless you were a hermit, it was ultimately all music the ears couldn’t escape, particularly in a suburban existence. What made Licensed to Ill feel like such a haymaker was its heightened sense of immaturity and its use (some said hijacking) of a musical form that many observers were still coming to terms with.

The Beastie Boys were generation gap music in its purest form. As expected, parents were indignant; Who raised these ingrates, What has happened to the youth of America, Where are the values, When I was your age we thought Pat Boone was risqué, Why I oughta lock you in your room without your stereo for playing that noise in the house, and in front of your sweet, impressionable little sister at that. How does it feel to feel old?

And while these days it seems that every child of the ‘80s got and dug what the Boys’ were laying down right off the bat, of course that’s not a bit true. Tons of kids were horrified or at least highly perturbed that three unruly youths were besmirching the rep of their peers through constant airtime on MTV. And it’s important to understand that The Beastie Boys were many ears’ first prolonged exposure to rap music, especially in the areas of the country not served by cable TV. And to be accurate, before Licensed to Ill MTV played very little rap music, just like before Thriller this supposedly progressive, groundbreaking entity aired almost no black music at all.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for August 2021, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for August 2021. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Moritz von Oswald Trio, Dissent (Modern Recordings) Having hit the scene as a member of the noteworthy Neue Deutsche Welle outfit Palais Schaumburg, Moritz von Oswald is best known for his contributions to electronic music, and techno in particular. He is also an adept collaborator, with his musical partners including his Palais Schaumburg bandmate Thomas Fehlmann (as 2MB), Eddie Fowlkes (with Fehlmann as 3MB), Mark Ernestus (in Basic Channel and Rhythm & Sound), and in previous versions of the Moritz von Oswald Trio, Max Loderbauer, Vladislav Delay, and Tony Allen. This lineup of the trio features Laurel Halo on keyboards and Heinrich Köbberling on drums, with von Oswald handling string keyboards, drum programming and synthesizer. Consisting of ten chapters with a prologue and epilogue, Dissent blends aspects of techno and jazz (specifically, the heartier side of fusion), and late in the sequence dub and hand drumming, with the results bringing to mind post-rock, and for a few brief moments, even Jon Hassell. Deftly executed and always interesting, often superb. A-

Xordox, Omniverse (Editions Mego) Born in Melbourne, Australia and musically active since around 1980, JG Thirlwell has been long based in NYC, with a fair amount of his output, particularly early on, sneeringly attitudinal in a manner fitting that locale in its pre-gentrified state. A notable collaboration (with Lydia Lunch and Thurston Moore) was called Stinkfist. More prominent was his multi-album, varyingly titled Foetus project. I bring all this up because against the odds, Thirlwell has adapted pretty damn well as a musician to what I’ll call late middle age, all while retaining his edge. This isn’t a new development, as the guy has chalked up numerous credits as a composer (fans of The Venture Bros. and Archer know his work), but it’s still worth mentioning in relation to his second album as Xordox, wherein the cinematic synthesizer vistas do acquire undercurrents and even explosive flashes of menace, and with one exception, without vocals. That Thirlwell can bring fresh twists to the dystopian is worth celebrating. So is the life and work of Editions Mego’s Peter Rehberg, who passed on July 22. RIP. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Willie Colón & Rubén Blades, Siembra (Craft) If you’re attuned to the history of salsa, you know this 1978 LP. It was for a long stretch the biggest selling salsa album of all time. The album is also an artistic standout, which means that budding enthusiasts of the style who’ve been snatching up Craft Recording’s Fania Records reissues have another appointment with the cash register. Siembra has all the basses covered, and more. Blades, who’d been the vocalist in Ray Barretto’s band, really comes into his own on the second of his four collab albums with Colón, not only singing but also writing all but one of the record’s seven selections, with the Kurt Weill- Bertolt Brecht-inspired “Pedro Navaja” a particular standout. But Colón’s contribution as musical director, producer and trombonist is just as vital. From the sweet disco fake out at the beginning of the record’s opener “Plástico” to the string-loaded closing title track, this baby brings the heat. One needn’t be fluent in the language to grasp the ambitiousness, and the mastery, that’s on display throughout. A

Eye Q, Please the Nation (Now-Again Reserve) This is the August 2021 installment in the Now-Again label’s Vinyl Reserve series, available to subscribers as a 2LP, its contents collecting the singles, the rare album Beginning, and unreleased material (culled from master tapes) from this ’70s band from Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia), formed by guitarist Cuthbert Maziwa, with the focus on ’70s Western rock. For those familiar with the roughly contemporaneous Zambian rock (or Zamrock) of W.I.T.C.H. and the Ngozi Family, that there was a Zimbabwean equivalent might not register a surprise. Indeed, folks might already be hip to the Zimbabwean rock (aka Zim heavy) specialists Wells Fargo, whose singles from ’76-’77 were compiled by Now-Again in 2016 as Watch Out! These 28 tracks make a fine companion volume. Like Wells Fargo and the Zamrock acts above, Eye Q focused on original material, and if they were undeniably impacted by Hendrix, Sabbath, Deep Purple etc., their groove-infused riff-laden style won’t be mistaken for any of their influences. Fun, all the way through. A-

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Graded on a Curve: Lennie Tristano,
The Duo Sessions

Last year, the New York-based Dot Time label issued The Duo Sessions, which featured privately made tapes of groundbreaking jazz pianist Lennie Tristano in dialogue with fellow pianist Connie Crothers, saxophonist Lenny Popkin, and drummer Roger Mancuso. An enlightening spotlight on an artist who’d effectively disappeared from recording studios and bandstands later in his life, its format was CD only; by extension, the praise the set received in the pages of this website was substantial, but fairly brief. In a sweet development, Dot Time’s vinyl edition, with an accompanying download, is freshly available, its arrival spurring a deeper evaluation of Tristano’s work and his tight but intense sphere of influence.

Born on March 19, 1919, Leonard Joseph Tristano made a strong entrance onto the jazz scene during the bebop era, playing in bands with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie for radio broadcasts and then getting his own group together, first with saxophonist Lee Konitz and a little later adding another saxophonist in Warne Marsh, both horn players inseparable from any worthwhile consideration of the pianist’s life and work (they figure prominently in this review).

Tristano began teaching piano in the 1940s and seems to have never quit, this practice eventually overtaking his interest in studio recording and gigs, though the biggest hunk of his discography is sourced from live performances. By 1978, the year of his death, his body of work was amongst the slimmest of any major jazz figure.

There was side one of Crosscurrents, cut in ’49 for Capitol but unreleased until ’72 (alongside unrelated recordings by Buddy DeFranco and Bill Harris), Tristano and The New Tristano, both for Atlantic, from ’56 and ’61 respectively, and the fairly obscure but fascinating Descent Into the Maelstrom, first released in Japan by East Wind in 1976 and in the US two years later by Inner City. Without a bunch of live recordings dating from ’49-’65 (and it’s worthy of note that Tristano and Maelstrom are partly comprised of performances), the man’s shelf would be meager, indeed.

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Graded on a Curve: Welcome to Zamrock! Vols. 1 & 2

For decades, the prime fount of Afrobeat has been Nigeria. However, turning retrospective attention southward to the landlocked nation of Zambia reveals a distinct strain of ’70s African rocking; Now-Again Records’ two Welcome to Zamrock! compilations spotlight this movement with appropriate depth. The CD editions come with a 104-page hardcover book co-authored by Now-Again’s Eothen “Egon” Alapatt and Zambian music historian Leonard Koloko, while the 2LPs are accompanied with an edited booklet and a WAV download card. Together, they offer 34 tracks recorded from ’72-’76 that in the label’s words represent every important Zamrock band.

The music blog wave has long ebbed and without much in the way of commiseration, but it’s worth noting that an occasional curatorial gem did shine amidst the sea of digitized record collections. For example, music blogs are where this writer first heard a pair of Zamrock’s most prolific acts, specifically the Ngozi Family and WITCH; in a positive turn, Now-Again has licensed full-length reissues of both (amongst others) and awarded them prominent positions on these two overviews of the style.

In terms of groove, Zamrock is certainly related to the sounds that emanated from Nigeria during the same period, but overall, the Zambian approach is distinguished by a larger ratio of rock in the mix, a circumstance that can be attributed to the impact of colonial rule. Having broken free from Britain less than a decade prior to the start of Welcome to Zamrock’s timeframe, the country’s reality is succinctly expressed in Now-Again’s choice of subtitle: How Zambia’s Liberation Led to a Rock Revolution.

The Ngozi Family’s “Hi Babe” is illustrative of the Zambian recipe, and it smartly opens side one of Vol. 1. The cut’s most striking element is a distortion-soaked guitar riff that registers far beyond fuzzy to the point of being downright serrated, the garage-like production bringing it a slightly muffled quality as the sharp crack of the drums strengthens the hard rock foundation.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Umbrellas,
The Umbrellas

Stumbling onto the indie-pop stylings of The Umbrellas could easily lead to assumptions that they reside in Merry Old England, but no; the map to their digs leads west to San Francisco, USA. Flush with chiming and distorted strings, urgent rhythms, sweet harmonies, and alternating guy-gal lead vocals, the band’s full-length debut is out August 6 on limited edition Coke bottle green vinyl, compact disc, and digital download. Dishing a dozen songs in 38 minutes, the album hits all the marks, and is another treat in a long string of delights from the ever-reliable Slumberland label.

The Umbrellas are Morgan Stanley on vocals and guitar, Matt Ferrara on vocals, guitar and keyboards, Keith Frerichs on 12-string acoustic guitar, drums, and vocals, and Nick Oka on bass. Their sole prior release is the “Maritime E.P.,” which came out just a smidge over one year ago on 33 1/3 rpm 7-inch vinyl and cassette.

Three of the four songs on the 7-inch are also featured on the LP, but in distinctively different versions, with the EP recorded in Ferrara’s apartment and the album at Cidra Studios. Additionally, the rhythms heard on the EP were solely sourced from (or at least only credited to) a drum machine. While said apparatus hasn’t exited The Umbrellas’ scene, the sound of an honest-to-goodness drum kit can’t help but deepen the band’s indie-pop bona fides.

While on the subject of the legit, the cassette version of the “Maritime E.P.” offers an extra track, a nifty cover of “Dance” by the ’80s UK outfit Strawberry Switchblade. If you dig that band but don’t know that song, that’s likely because its only recording was a David Jensen radio session in October of ’82. “Dance” did morph into Strawberry Switchblade’s “Since Yesterday,” the opening track and first single from their eponymous debut album in ’84, but the revamping denoted a stylistic move toward synth-pop and new wave.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2021, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July 2021. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Ruth Mascelli, A Night at the Baths (Disciples) This the solo debut from New Orleans-based Mascelli, who’s noted as part of Special Interest, an outfit, unheard by me, that’s tagged as a combo of no wave, glam, and industrial, frankly very enticing, but right now there’s this LP to consider, which is described as progressing from Mascelli’s electronically focused output as Psychic Hotline (that I’ve also not heard). To elaborate, A Night at the Baths is inspired by techno, acid house and ambient, with Mascelli explaining further that the album is an “audio diary” of their experiences in “various bathhouses, dark rooms, and gay clubs” while touring with Special Interest and traveling alone. Crafted so that each track is representative of an individual room or space, parts of this, such as opener “Sauna” and “Libidinal Surplus,” unfurled about how I expected (both are dancefloor thumpers), but as Mascelli is skilled and inventive, that’s in no way a negative. Other cuts, such as the spacy “Hydrotherapy” and the ’70s surrealism of “Missing Men,” divert from the anticipated very nicely. A-

koleżanka, Place Is (Bar/None) Brooklyn-based Kristina Moore used to be in Triathalon, but she’s currently devoting herself exclusively to this project, writing and singing the songs and playing the guitar as Ark Calkins assists on bass and drums. koleżanka can be tagged as art-pop, though the sound moves around a good bit, ranging from dreamy to electronics-tinged (synths and a drum machine are involved) to even soulful. A few of her songs thrive on directness suggesting that in a better world, they’d be hits, specifically early track “$40.” Moore has a powerful voice well-suited for the foreground as she delivers the occasional high-note flourish, but she seems more invested in making her album instrumentally interesting, which is admirable, even as the songs don’t always end up where I’d prefer them. The key is that she avoids bad decisions. But “Vegan Sushi,” which reminds me of Stereolab, could’ve lasted for another four minutes (it’s over in under two and half, waaaa), and lands in a highly enjoyable place. Strong for a debut, and very smart. B+

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Obits, Die at the Zoo (Outer Battery) Featuring singing guitarists Rick Froberg and Sohrab Habibion, bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Alexis Fleisig (who replaced Scott Gursky in 2011), Brooklyn’s Obits broke up in 2015, with their final studio album Bed and Bugs released two years prior. This live recording (a dozen songs on the vinyl, with the full 15 offered via accompanying download) captures a long set from Brisbane, Australia in 2012, and it’s a sharp, energetic affair. Before Obits, Froberg was in San Diego stalwarts Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes, as Habibion and Fleisig were members of DC’s Edsel, credits that highlight a background in both post-hardcore and beefy garage-punkish rock with a touch of the Stooges thrown in. In 2021, this guitar-centric and rhythmically hefty sound is quite welcome, and that it derives from a band of savvy vets makes it even better. That Outer Battery didn’t just dump this on wax by shaving off the last three tracks is indicative of the overall quality; ‘tis also a very attractive thing, on yellow wax (the pink is sold out). A-

Kippie Moketsi & Hal Singer, Blue Stompin’ (We Are Busy Bodies / The Sun) South African saxophonist Moketsi was a groundbreaking member of the Jazz Epistles alongside Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, and Jonas Gwangwa. US saxophonist Singer played in the bands of Jay McShann, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, Roy Eldridge and many others, and in 1959 Singer cut an LP for Prestige with Charlie Shavers’ band titled Blue Stompin’, its opening composition also commencing this album, played in 1974 while Singer was in South Africa on a State Department tour. It the best of the four tracks on this reissue of an LP originally released in ’77 by The Sun label. It’s also the only cut to feature Singer, just so you know. The other selections by Moketsi’s band, if not quite as strong, are worthwhile enough to make this a desirable item. Note that as of this writing, there are 14 remaining for purchase on Bandcamp (copies are also available in stores). Moketsi opens “Blue Stompin’” wonderfully, all by himself. The full band’s groove thereafter is a swank reminder that Singer hit #1 on the R&B chart in 1948 with “Corn Bread.”  A-

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Graded on a Curve: Tobacco City,
Tobacco City, USA

Tobacco City is the handle used by at least a couple of shops dedicated to the sale of all things legally smokable, but it’s also the name of a band form Chicago, and don’tcha just know it, their country-infused sound harkens back to the days when the air in bars was thick with secondhand carcinogens. Not that the five-piece’s debut is a mere retro trip. No, it plants its shovel deep in the fertile soil of lightly psych-kissed country-rock and pulls up eight mineral-rich tunes, many with sweet guy-gal harmonies that should warm the cockles of anybody with an unquenchable thirst for the brilliance of Gram and Emmylou. Tobacco City, USA is out July 30 on LP and digital via Scissor Tail Records.

Tobacco City consists of vocalist-guitarists Lexi Goddard and Chris Coleslaw, bassist-vocalist Eliza Weber, drummer Josh Condon, and pedal steel specialist Nick Usalis. Across the eight songs that tidily comprise Tobacco City, USA, the members click together with impressive proficiency for a first album. Although they have been together for a few years, it hasn’t been with this exact lineup, as the initial impetus was to play a Halloween gig as a Neil Young cover band.

That’s a fine platform from which to emerge, but Tobacco City has far surpassed that modest objective with growth that’s apparent straight away through the album’s opener and digital single “Blue Raspberry,” the band hitting a relaxed zone that connects as perfectly suited for recuperation after a late night’s early sunshiny morning.

Goddard and Coleslaw’s voices blend together with vibrant echo and then further intermingle with the siren swells of pedal steel, but the real kicker is how the bedrock of strummed guitar and drums expands the cut’s usefulness beyond simple accompaniment for extended couch lazing, meaning “Blue Raspberry” is as appropriate for preparing to ramp it up as it is for gently coming down.

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Graded on a Curve: Toomorrow Original Soundtrack

Olivia Newton-John remains well-known for a string of ’70s-’80s hits and for her starring roles in Grease, a box office smash, and the roller-disco musical Xanadu, a commercial and critical disappointment in its day that has subsequently acquired cult status. But before all that, young Olivia was part of Toomorrow, a group assembled by Harry Saltzman and Don Kirshner to star in a sci-fi R&R musical film of the same name. That the movie persists as essentially a footnote in the career of Newton-John is reflective of its quality. As for the soundtrack, which is coming out on vinyl July 30 through Real Gone, it also falls far short of a classic, but with numerous points of interest, which we’ll consider below.

Let’s begin with Don Kirshner, the music publisher, songwriter, producer, manager, and talent coordinator whose biggest credit is as a guiding hand in the formation of The Monkees, though he was also responsible for cartoon pop group The Archies. Swinging over to rock seriousness, Kirshner’s eponymous record label featured lite-progsters Kansas, who, in a startling conflict of interest, once performed on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.

In attempting to extend his good fortune with The Archies (a rebound after being jettisoned from involvement with The Monkees) by reaching into the realms of motion pictures, Kirshner’s partnership with Harry Saltzman was a savvy move. This is specifically due to Saltzman co-producing (along with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli) the first nine James Bond films, a string that was still in progress as Toomorrow was taking shape.

Although some will harrumph at the notion, putting together a group not just to make records but to star as that group in films (yes, plural, as a series was apparently the objective) is an idea with potential for positive returns. But conversely, things could go horribly awry. That didn’t really happen in this case, as the music of Toomorrow is underwhelming but largely listenable. As the album is a soundtrack, a handful of instrumental middle-or-the-road-isms bring a wild unevenness to the affair; those approaching the record with Newton-John as primary point of interest will likely get the fidgets.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2021, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July 2021. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Anika, Change (Sacred Bones) Anika is the recording and performance moniker of British-German musician Annika Henderson, who is probably best known for her self-titled full-length debut from 2010, a record that featured three members of Beak>, including Geoff Burrow (also of Portishead). Although recordings have been plentiful since (EPs, singles, guest spots, the band Exploded View, longer collabs including with techno producer Dave Clarke and more recently Shackleton), this is her proper follow-up to Anika, and its nine tracks are thoroughly inspired. As Change combines electronic textures (she is currently based in Berlin) with rock muscularity and edge (specifically post-punk and ’90s Alternative), that this record lacks any serious missteps is borderline extraordinary. Another big plus is how Anika’s socially conscious lyrics avoid the trite, which shouldn’t be surprising as prior to music she was a political journalist. Uninitiated listeners into PJ Harvey and Jehnny Beth should investigate, though Anika is firmly in command of her own musical voice. A-

Celia Hollander, Timekeeper (Leaving) Prior to putting out music under her full name (of which this is her second release, following last year’s “Recent Futures” EP, also on Leaving), Los Angeles-based electro-acoustic composer Hollander used the moniker $3.33 for a handful of releases, mostly on cassette and digital. But Timekeeper is on vinyl (as was “Recent Futures”), either on limited black (400) and even more limited temporal blue (100), and it’ll be of particular interest to listeners attuned to experimentation that’s methodically rendered. Each of the dozen tracks has a time of day for a title, as Hollander has set out to chart how energetic and emotional fluctuations form a sense of time that’s in constant flux. Utilizing acoustic recordings and digital synthesis, there are three compositional types here: temporal fields (which are expansive and unpredictable), waves (swelling momentums), or ropes (singular linearity). As the record plays, it is surely ascertainable which compositions are which, but the progress is never transitionally jarring. To the contrary, thematic cohesiveness is abundant. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Alice Coltrane, Kirtan: Turiya Sings (Impulse! /UMe) Aficionados of the late and very great keyboardist, composer, bandleader and teacher Alice Coltrane might know of Turiya Sings, the extremely rare collection of devotional music she recorded in 1982. It was released on cassette in a small number by the Avatar Book Institute after Coltrane fulfilled her Warners contract and essentially retired from the commercial music scene. But this is not that tape. Indeed, Turiya Sings has never been officially reissued (it has been bootlegged and unsurprisingly circulates online; originals are expensive). However, Kirtan: Turiya Sings does derive from the same period, and in fact offers the same songs in the same sequence, but with Coltrane singing and playing Wurlitzer organ only (the ’82 release version added synthesizer and strings). It’s been a long time since I listened to Turiya Sings, and while I considered seeking it out for a compare and contrast, the warmth and beauty of this set brought on a quick reevaluation of my priorities. Another layer of Alice Coltrane brilliance is revealed. A

The Gun Club, Fire of Love Deluxe Edition (Blixa Sounds) Originally released in 1981, Fire of Love stands as The Gun Club’s finest record. I’ve already opined enthusiastically on its contents for this website in a full review easily findable by searching the archives, but this set delivers an extremely worthwhile expansion, though the specifics differ a little by format. Blixa Sound’s 2LP pairs the original album with the never before released live set from Club 88 on March 6, 1981. The 2CD sequences five alternate versions and five four-track demos (all ten previously unreleased) after the album’s 11 selections on the first disc and drops the live show onto the second. But the vinyl includes a download with the CD’s extras, so fret not; you’ll get to hear it all. And it’s a cinch that any fan of this band will want to spend quality time with whole shebang, as those versions and demos are totally worthy and the live set, with good sound, truly rips. Featuring Jeffrey Lee Pierce in prime form and produced by Chris D., the core album is a potent batch of twisted roots magnificence, an essential part of any punk collection. A+

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