Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2020, Part One

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Thiago Nassif, Mente (Gearbox) Rio de Janeiro-based vocalist-guitarist Nassif has been active as a recording artist since 2009, but it was really his third album, 2015’s Três, that put him on the international radar. Arto Lindsay produced and played on that one, with Nassif returning the favor by helping to produce Lindsay’s 2017 effort Cuidado Madame. Now, Arto returns for Três, co-producing and playing on two tracks, and it’s a fitting combination, as Nassif’s work can sound like a blend of prime Tom Zé and the wilder side of ZE Records. Now, if you’re thinking Mente is the sort of record David Byrne would’ve done backflips to sign in the early days of Luaka Bop, well okay, but I also feel Nassif’s work is maybe a little (and occasionally much) too weird for that association, while never coming off like he’s forcing the strangeness. I guess that means if you dig the Brazil Classics series, there’s no reason to not check out this superb LP, which is one of the treats of 2020 thus far. A

Idjah Hadidjah & Jugala Jaipongan, Jaipongan Music of West Java + Reworks (Hive Mind) This 2LP came out in March, but it’s still available and deserves a belated spotlight, as it provides a magnificent serving of the Javanese style known as Jaipongan, which flourished in the ’70s-’80s in Indonesia, though the recordings that comprise the first LP here date from 2007, with vocalist Idjah Hadidjah at the fore and backed by the house band of Jugala Studios in Bandung, Java. The backstory is that this was a reunion of sorts, as Hadidjah was invited, back in the early ’80s, by the inventor of the Jaipongan style, composer and choreographer Gugum Gumbira, to sing in his Jugala Orchestra. She accepted, and had considerable success, becoming one of the country’s most adored singers as the collab lasted through the decade. This return to the studio also produced strong results, but as the music plays, it’s enlightening to consider how the Jaipongan style is, unusually, considered the invention of one person.

Specifically, Gumbira was understandably displeased over the Indonesian government’s ban on Western music, including R&R (this ban dating from 1961), and in the early ’70s, he adapted the traditional style of ketuk-tilu into a contemporary form, not as a way to smuggle in outside influences, but instead simply as modernization. Along with adding in gamelan, Gumbira had the singers focus solely on singing, with dancing cast aside. Hadidjah had been a professional singer with Sundanese Shadow Puppet Theatres prior to joining Gumbira, and her abilities remain extraordinary here, evident even to me, a non-expert in the Jaipongan style, as she’s elevated by playing of remarkable intensity and precision. The second LP, + Reworks, is the byproduct of Kai Riedl providing multitrack tapes made in Java to a variety of electronic musicians and modular sythesists for the purpose of form extension. Per the title, reworking, rather than the standard and potentially underwhelming remixing, a goal that’s largely realized. Excellent. A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: V/A, The Longest Day – A Benefit for the Alzheimer’s Association (Mon Amie) The Alzheimer’s Association’s yearly fundraiser is called The Longest Day, and this year Mon Amie, the one-woman bedroom label run by Mona Dehghan, has released a compilation on double vinyl, CD and digital with 100% of the profits going to the foundation. Right on, Mona! Those ordering now will be emailed a download starting today (June 19), with physical copies scheduled to arrive by October 1. Here’s the full list of contributors, in sequence: Anna Calvi, Rituals of Mine, Daniel Avery, Cold Specks, TR/ST, Shadowparty, Beach Slang, New Order, HAAi, J. Laser, Sad13, Algiers, Astronauts, Etc., Wolfmanhattan Project (consisting of Mick Collins, Kid Congo Powers and Bob Bert), Hayden Thorpe & Jon Hopkins, Moby, and Rhys Chatham.

Dehghan is also part of the daily operations at Mute Records, specifically the senior director of marketing and project management, which likely helped in landing the second extended mix of New Order’s “Nothing but a Fool,” which makes its vinyl debut here. It sounds quite nice stretching out to over nine minutes, but it’s not even the best track. Those who know me might be guessing I’m giving the honor to Wolfmanhattan Project’s “Friday the 13th,” as I dig all those dudes. It’s a good one, but no. Beach Slang’s nifty cover of The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”? Nope. The anthemic ’80s-esque pop-rock of Shadowparty’s “Marigold”?  It makes me feel young, but nah. Thorpe and Hopkins’ cover of Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses” is close, but no cigar. The out-of-nowhere indie folk-tronic goodness of Moby’s “In Between Violence” is even closer, but I’m awarding the standout track to Chatham’s excellent “For Bob – In Memory (2014) for Flute Orchestra.” Dehghan saved the very best for last. A-

ONO, “Kongo” & “Mercy” 12-inch (Whited Sepulchre) Yes, this long-running and inspirational Chicago-based “Avant-Industrial Gospel” outfit received a new release pick in this column back on May 1 of this year for their album Red Summer (released on the American Dreams label), but there are a couple good reasons to spotlight the outfit again so soon. First, these two tracks derive from the Red Summer session and extend that record’s worthiness quite nicely. Second, as pointed out by Whited Sepulchre, the label is releasing this one-sided 12-inch (and three more, all reviewed below) on this day, that’d be June 19, aka Juneteenth, that Bandcamp is donating all of its profits to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. To align a purchase of this fiercely political record (perhaps paired with Red Summer, which is still available in a variety of physical formats) with Bandcamp’s gesture (which, per the company, will occur annually every Juneteenth hereafter) registers as a thoroughly righteous way to exercise freedom of the consumer. A-

Jaki Shelton Green, The River Speaks of Thirst (Soul City Sounds) Speaking of Juneteenth, this is the release day for the debut album from North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green. Anybody with an interest in poetics with a focus on social justice should seek out a copy, as it’s on vinyl, CD and digital. Green has published eight books of poetry, so while The River Speaks of Thirst is her first recording, it documents a command of language that unwinds with substantial force and beauty. Her work is lacking in tangible flaws.

She’s also been reading publicly for decades and wields an edge that is at times wonderfully theatrical (check out “Letter From the Other Daughter of the Confederacy”). While musical elements and production techniques are heard throughout, most prominently in “A Litany for the Possessed,” they combine well with Green’s readings, as do the handful of guest voices, including Shirlette Ammons on the aforementioned track. However, it’s Green’s own words and delivery that elevate this record to such a rare plateau. Oh, and as Juneteenth is also Green’s birthday, there is a Zoom celebration from 6:30-8 PM today (liked on her Facebook page) for the LP’s release and her arrival date. Happy birthday! A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Caleb Dolister, Daily Thumbprint Collection 3, The Wandering (Orenda) Although this is a digital-only release, Queens, NYC-based composer and drummer Dolister announced on June 5, 2020, that he will be donating and personally matching the June Bandcamp sales (up to an amount of $1,500) of this album, which has been ten years in the making, with the recipient Equal Justice Initiative, an organization devoted to racial justice and equality. The PR text further adds that while the release of Daily Thumbprint is of major personal significance to Dolister, he also believes “this is a time to maintain awareness on changing social and systemic issues for the better.” So again, while there is no physical format for this set (at least not at this point), this lack is small potatoes next to the positivity of Dolister’s gesture. And as the music is a vivid blend of avant-prog, jazzy elements, and post-rock (the label mentions post-jazz), spreading the word is an easy thing to do.

Now, the styles cited might lead folks to the possibility that Daily Thumbprint is a formidable beast, but that’s really not the case, as Dolister’s temperament, if open to the expression of technical deftness, ultimately leans more toward the melodic than the thorny. Bluntly, I wouldn’t have minded a little more wildness, but Dolister’s thrust is still appreciated, and there is enough heaviness to counterbalance the pleasantness of the grand compositional sweep. There is also a wide range of instruments (the rock rudiments, assorted horns and strings, piano, Fender Rhodes, vibraphone, mandolin, and harp) integrated into the mix, and played by two dozen individuals and necessitating considerable travels by Dolister and illuminating the decade spent in creating it. As said, I would’ve been happy with some crazier detours, but the comparisons to Tortoise, Electric Masada, Jaga Jazzist and others feels right on the money to me. A few of the heavy rock moves remind me a bit of the Ipecac family of bands. A-

Let It Come Down, Songs We Sang in Our Dreams (Shimmy Disc / Joyful Noise) The musical output of Kramer has been with me for nearly as long as I’ve been into the underground scene, as has his myriad credits as a producer and label runner. He was a member of Bongwater at that time, and had just started Shimmy Disc, which issued records by a slew of notable acts ranging from King Missile to GWAR to Boredoms to Ween to Naked City to a handful of his collaborations with such major figures as Jad Fair, Ralph Carney, Penn Jillette and more. He was also a member of New York Gong and the excellent Shockabilly (with David Licht and Eugene Chadbourne) and toured with The Fugs, Butthole Surfers and B.A.L.L. His production credits range from Daniel Johnston to Urge Overkill to Galaxie 500 to Low to Will Oldham. There are also over a half dozen solo records, including three for John Zorn’s Tzadik label.

To say the guy has had a distinguished career is an understatement, but it also seems he’s been nowhere near as busy recently as he was in the 1980s-’90s. So, Joyful Noise’s announcement that Kramer is their 2020 artist in residence is excellent news. As part of the endeavor, he’s releasing five distinct LPs this year, which will be compiled in a box set that’s available for preorder now. And the five albums effectively reignite Shimmy Disc’s engine, which is a fine turn of events. Let It Come Down, his duo project with the UK vocalist Xan Tyler, is the first, and it’s a sweet dose of neo-psychedelia that ranges from dream-pop to folktronica to more glacially-paced indie-chamber-folk action to even a sweet bossa move, and it all flows together damn well. Tyler has worker previously as half of synth-poppers Technique (with Kate Holmes) and extensively with dub maestro Mad Professor, so she’s no novice. Kramer’s input is typically assured, with a few instances of his trademark found audio sampling. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Daniel Carter, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Gerald Cleaver, Welcome Adventure! Vol. 1 (577) This label, co-founded by the multi-horn man on this record Daniel Carter, is simply not holding back in the frequency of their release schedule. As my prior enthusiasms in the virtual pages of this website will attest, I’m flat-out overjoyed, and have grown to anticipate the steady flow. But still, when news of this set hit my inbox, I was stunned to an almost spit-take level, and that’s specifically due to the players involved. It’s out today in a choice of standard black vinyl, CD and digital, with a cloudy clear wax edition of 100 available directly from the label or the artists. Bluntly, to describe the assembled contributors as a supergroup borders on understatement.

But supergroup is a rock term that often historically denotes underperformance or dysfunction, so it’s better to simply relate that jazz records rarely offer lineups that are this stacked in an “All-Star” sense (but the reality is thousands of jazz recordings are loaded with top-to-bottom talent). In fact, I immediately thought of the group that produced Jazz at Massey Hall (that’s Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach), though the differences are considerable and it only took a few seconds to shake off the comparison. Listening to the music here drove home how Welcome Adventure! is a direct byproduct of long relationships forged inside the NYC avant-jazz scene, a community that these men have played a major role in defining, reaching back to the 1970s. Bassist extraordinaire Parker and Carter, who plays tenor sax, trumpet and flute here, have created together the longest, with recorded documentation dating to the mid-’70s.

Those two really got the ball rolling in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which is when pianist Shipp made his big splash on the scene. Detroit native Cleaver is the youngest, but his discography is immense, as great drummers are consistently in demand. Let’s expand upon that; drummers possessing Cleaver’s level of sensitivity are reliably invited to play gigs and sessions, and this scenario extends to everybody involved, as they’ve made a ton of music and have indeed done so together before, though this is their first studio album as a quartet (I’m chuffed it’s not the last). Now, Parker, Shipp and Cleaver have been on record a few times, and the interactions here (a long track followed by a shorter one on side one and a side-long piece on the flip) can recall some of their work on the terrific Aum Fidelity label. Here, this means a deep connection to the avant scene unfolding for big stretches in a non-harried manner that can perhaps be described as post-Loft scene. So much talent, so much beauty, so little ego. Outstanding. A

Brigid Mae Power, Head Above The Water (Fire) This is the third full-length for Galway, Ireland’s Power, after two nice ones for the Tompkins Square label. Co-produced by Alasdair Roberts with Power and her frequent collaborator Peter Broderick, Head Above the Water certainly fulfills the label’s promise of country meets trad folk, but the record is so much more, which given her prior work isn’t a shocker, though the breadth and intensity are striking all the same. There is a psychedelic Brit folk quality that shines especially bright in “I Was Named After You,” but is to varying degrees pervasive throughout the ten tracks. The playing is excellent, featuring Roberts and Broderick on assorted instruments, plus Stevie Jones on upright bass amongst others and of course Power’s guitars, mellotron and mellotron organ, but the strongest component is her singing, which enhances said Brit folk atmosphere while favoring forcefulness over fragility; her surname is appropriate. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Goldman Thibodeaux and the Lawtell Playboys, La Danse à St. Ann’s (Nouveau Electric) The French Creole style known as zydeco is foremost a celebratory music. Now, it can function just fine as solitary listening, but it’ll assuredly make one pine for good company and enough space to dance while drinking something strong, preferably from a jar. With this said, on past occasions when zydeco bands have been invited into studios, the results sometimes got slicked-up to the point where the pleasure knob gets turned down. Well, there is no such problem here, as the 15 tracks on this CD were captured in a church hall in Mallett, Louisiana last November during the Thibodeaux Family Reunion. And so, there is intimacy (enhanced between tracks through interaction between Goldman and his assembled kin and in-laws), but astutely recorded by veteran musician, producer (Marianne Faithfull, Dr. John, Flat Duo Jets) and longtime New Orleans resident Mark Bingham.

But there’s a whole lot more going on here, such as the documentation of a family band, with the Lawtell Playboys having been extant since shortly after the end of WWII. Formed by brothers Bébé and Eraste Carriere in 1946, the Playboys first began featuring Goldman, who sings and plays accordion and is 87 years old, around two decades later. However, he didn’t start learning accordion until he was in his 50s, eventually taking over for Delton Broussard, who’d himself replaced Eraste Carriere. Before fiddler Calvin Carriere died in 2002, Goldman, who is his cousin, asked for permission to carry on the Lawtell Playboys. This version has Goldman on accordion and vocals, Brock Thibodeaux on frottoir (aka rubboard), Louis Michot on fiddle and vocals, Courtney Jeffries on acoustic guitar, Justin Leger on electric bass, and Barry Cormier on drums and vocals.

Over the decades, there hasn’t been many recordings of the Lawtell Playboys. La La Louisiana Black French Music, a split with the Playboys and the Carriere Brothers, came out on the Maison De Soul in 1977, with that album’s participants included on Zodico – Louisiana Créole Music, which Rounder released in ’79. Much later, Calvin and Goldman cut Les misères dan le Coeur for Louisiana Radio Records. It was released on CD in 2000 and was the only recording they made together. It seems rather scarce these days, and would make a fine reissue, though right now, let’s cherish the contents of this disc. Sure, this stuff flows in a more contempo zydeco party fashion than the trad sounds heard on the Maison De Soul LP and other likeminded releases, but that’s in part due to the size of the ensemble and some of the instruments used. The bottom line is that La Danse à St. Ann’s is an utter gem. Dishing pure gusto for nearly 75 minutes, the only thing missing is a big plate of food. Cue this up and get one. A

Threadbare (featuring Jason Stein, Ben Cruz & Emerson Hunton), Silver Dollar (NoBusiness) Stein plays the bass clarinet, Cruz the electric guitar, and Hunton the drums on this CD of contempo avant-jazz with a compositional foundation. The whole occasionally rubs up against a jazz-rock sensibility that’s closer to art-metal than fusion-esque noodling, and that’s sweet as a candied yam. From a Chicago home base, Stein has excelled in a whole lot of situations over the last fifteen years, including Locksmith Isidore and the Jason Stein Quartet and co-leading Hearts & Minds and Nature Work. This is doubly impressive, as the bass clarinet is no easy axe to handle. I say that not from experience, but from the reality that a man who passed in 1964, namely Eric Dolphy, is still considered the benchmark in jazz on the instrument. And it’s not that people haven’t played it since, it’s just that it’s hardly anybody’s main focus, a scenario harkening back to Dolphy himself (as he was a triple threat on alto sax and flute).

Plus, when folks do tackle the bass clarinet, it’s often in more progressive and downright avant-garde situations. This is the case with Silver Dollar, on which Stein plays the distinctively toned instrument exclusively and deftly. What Stein doesn’t do is compose, with that role filled by his bandmates, both recent Oberlin College grads and each younger than him. Their pieces are uniformly interesting as they cohere into a gripping whole of digestible length. Cruz’s guitar is at times reminiscent of Mary Halvorson, which is a treat for my ears (hopefully yours, too) and when coupled with his and Emerson’s compositions (they only co-write one of the eight tracks, the untitled finale), the sound can remind me a bit of Trevor Dunn’s Trio Convulsant. Just a bit, mind you, as the pieces here aren’t as angular (not as convulsant) if no less powerful. There are moments of full-boil (and texturally metallic) intensity, but early on in “Funny Thing Is” (and only for a few seconds), I heard a touch of Ornette’s ’60s trio. I dig. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: TALsounds, Acquiesce (NNA Tapes) Chicago’s Natalie Chami is a member of the trio Good Willsmith and is half of Damiana and l’éternèbre, but her solo music, which can be encapsulated descriptively as experimental electronics with vocals, is released as TALsounds. The earliest recording listed in the TALsounds Discogs entry is Sky Face, which came out on cassette in 2013 (it’s still available digitally via TALsounds’ Bandcamp). A deeper inspection of her output shows that magnetic tape has been the preferred physical format for nearly all of Chami’s solo stuff, though there was a split 7-inch with Iron Galaxy released in 2013 in an edition of 100 copies and then Love Sick on LP and CD in 2017 through Ba Da Bing! Acquiesce is also available on wax (standard black or 100 copies in white) and is a truly solo affair, with Chami responsible for all the playing and recording, an improvisational process finding the results “later trimmed down and reformatted into songs.”

Cooper Crain of Bitchin’ Bajas is credited as producer, but as Acquiesce is her fifth album, the process of trimming down outlined above is pretty clearly Chami’s own, a conclusion drawn from the striking confidence of the music here as it unfolds rather than seeking out specifics of/ in her earlier stuff. Equally impressive is how her vocalizing, which is often wordless and described by Chami as “leaning into vowels instead of phrases,” is enhanced by the cascading soundscapes, which indeed have songlike structure but also possess drifting qualities unsurprising in experimental (and improvised) electronics. By extension, her history of opening for artists as diverse as Tortoise, Mary Lattimore, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and Merzbow is easy to understand. One can also easily absorb Chami’s statement that for her, it’s the playing rather than the recording that brings therapeutic value. On that note, we should consider ourselves lucky she’s produced such a large body of work, with Acquiesce the latest example. A-

Ami Dang, “Meditations Mixtape Vol. 1” (Leaving) Dang is a Baltimore-based South Asian-American ambient artist, singer and player of electronics, plus most distinctively, a mean sitarist. This was all in evidence on Parted Plains from last year, also on Leaving and still available on LP, though “Meditations Mixtape Vol. 1,” which, appropriately for a mixtape, is available on cassette in an edition of 300, provides a tidier dose of the same, but with urgency that one might not expect given Dang’s ambient sensibility. Specifically, she was inspired to create this music after her aunt and uncle became very ill with coronavirus. In her words, “Whether you or a loved one are ill, you’ve lost work, or are feeling general anxiety about the state of the world, these meditations are for you.” Her sitar is as strong as on Parted Plains, but it’s really her vocals that stand out on these four tracks and especially in “Simplicity Mind Tool” and closer “Tension, Tension Release.” An inspirational whole. Thank you, Ami Dang. A-

Matthewdavid’s Mindflight “Care Tracts” (Leaving) Matthew David McQueen mastered Ami Dang’s Meditations Mixtape, and he’s also the co-founder of Leaving Records, which has been one of the more consistently rewarding indie labels to have emerged over the last dozen or so years. A part of Leaving’s discography derives from McQueen’s work under the handle Matthewdavid (with LRH001 in fact, DISK Collection Vol.1, a CDR packaged in a hand-crafted 5¼-inch floppy disk), and a sub-portion as Mindflight, which on the new “Care Tracts” cassette EP (300 copies) strives for a plateau of elevated consciousness across three selections of 10 minutes each: “Tract of Animalia,” “Tract of Gentle Healing,” and “Tract of Bell & Flute Magic.” You might be thinking, “New Age?” You can bet your sweet keister this is New Age, bub. But in wholly embracing the style it avoids the clichés of the genre (especially in the final tract) and hopefully, any negative connotations you might still hold regarding the form. Just let go and float, ok? A-

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

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

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Three LPs from Smithsonian Folkways. The massive archive of this esteemed label (better described as a jewel of public works) is not difficult to investigate, but original vinyl can be hard to come by and occasionally pricey, so the decision to reissue selected titles (in sharp reproductions of the distinctive tip-on jackets that define a significant portion of Folkways’ output prior to founder Moses Asch donating the entire discography to the Smithsonian in 1987), has been appreciated, and covered pretty extensively both in this column and in larger reviews in TVD’s Graded on a Curve. Unsurprisingly, the focus has largely been on folk, blues, old-time, bluegrass and Americana recordings, but Folkways’ interests also spanned into experimental and avant-garde regions, which is reflected in the three most recent reissues, all out tomorrow, and all spotlighted directly below.

The Entourage Music and Theater Ensemble, The Neptune Collection. Of the artists responsible for these three LPs, this group, with connections to Baltimore and Connecticut in the 1970s, likely has the highest profile, due in part to their music getting sampled by Four Tet, but more recently, through the release by Tompkins Square of the Ceremony of Dreams : Studio Sessions & Outtakes, 1972​-​1977 3CD (which also has a scaled back single LP edition). This album, Entourage’s second, recorded in Silver Spring, MD in May 1975, features recordings exclusive to the album, so if you have and dig either or both of those comps, you’ll probably want this one, too (their debut was reissued in 2012). Featuring Joe Clark, Wall Matthews, Rusti Clark and Michael Smith, they collectively composed for dance-theater, with this the home stereo equivalent. Listeners into world-jazz should find its contents appealing, though it often goes beyond that sorta thing, “Space Needle Suicide” in particular. A-

Craig Kupka, Crystals: New Music for Relaxation 2. Okay, so I’ll confess that music specifically made for relaxation hasn’t been a high priority in my life. That means I’m not familiar with Kupka’s prior effort, Clouds, which came out in 1981, also on Folkways. After “extensive field testing found this lovely album as popular as Mr. Kupka’s first” (you have no idea how much I enjoyed reading that on the back cover), this one followed in ’82, featuring Kupka on trombone, MXR digital delay and Arp synth, Norman Beede on Fender Rhodes and Siel synth, Bob Ose on trombone and Kenny Sawhill on bass trombone. That’s a lot of trombone, enough that the nearly 20-minute “Trombones of Lithia” on side one had me thinking of it as a possible distant cousin of ’70s NYC Minimalism, which isn’t a terrible stretch, as Kupka’s other recorded work is three volumes of Modern Dance Technique Environments. Side two’s 21-minute title track goes easy on the ‘bones but lands in early electronic territory to pleasurable effect. A-

Ann McMillan, Gateway Summer Sound: Abstracted Animal and Other Sounds. Across the decades, Folkways has released recordings of speeches, interviews, recitations by poets, authors and educators of their own works or those of others, field recordings of rain forests, junk yards, and cable car soundscapes; there’s even a self-hypnosis instructional album. But one of the more popular “non-musical” LPs, at least in my experience, as I’ve seen it in so many collections, is Sounds of North American Frogs. I own it. I enjoy it. But I appreciate McMillan’s work here a lot more, as it’s intriguing in its abstraction, blending aspects of sound collage, field recordings and early electronic music as she manipulates the sounds of frogs, insects and birds, but also children’s voices, sounds of land, air and sea traffic, pan percussion, harpsichord, and even Frederick Kiesler’s sculpture “The Gong.” There are parts that hit the ear like sound effects for a ’50s sci-fi film but are probably just a hoot owl. ‘nuff said. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Phillip Sollmann, Monophonie (A-Ton) Sollmann is a Berlin-based DJ and producer, who when recording via the alias Efdemin, produces a brand of techno that’s, reportedly, “psychedelic, and idiosyncratic,” doing so as recently as last year on the New Atlantis album (which was based, per the title, on an unfinished 17th century novel by Francis Bacon). He’s also produced work that falls outside of the techno realm, specifically experimental and microtonal composition, which includes the “Panama / Suez” EP (a collaboration with Konrad Sprenger and Oren Ambarchi), Gegen Die Zeit (a co-billed collab with John Gürtler) and Monophonie, which, as a live performance with Ensemble Musikfabrik, dates from 2017, premiered at Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre and then taken to Ruhrtriennale and Kampnagel in Hamburg.

For Monophonie, Sollmann has orchestrated a massive undertaking that employs the “rare historical instruments of sonic research” developed by 19th century physician-physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (including the double siren, an original of which Sollmann played in performance with Ensemble Musikfabrik), the microtonal instruments made by the great 20th century avant-classical composer Harry Partch, and the metal sound sculptures of Harry Bertoia (I did say massive). Utilizing the tuning system of just intonation, Monophonie, akin to his work in techno, attains the psychedelic, which in this case is a transportive music reminiscent at times of ’70s Steve Reich blending with early Terry Riley, but with tones and instrumentation enhancing the non-academic side of the modern classical tradition a la Partch naturally, but also nodding toward Moondog and even La Monte Young. Monophonie is a record of startling beauty and precise, disciplined ambition, destined to be one of the best of 2020. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Ike Yard, S/T (Superior Viaduct) NYC’s Ike Yard hold the distinction of having the first record released on Factory Records’ short-lived Factory America label, their eponymous 1982 LP sporting the catalogue number FACT A SECOND (FACT A FIRST was given to a NYC live show featuring Ike Yard opening for New Order, whose set was later released on the Taras Shevchenko VHS). Featuring vocalist-percussionist Stuart Argabright, guitarist Michael Diekmann, vocalist-bassist Kenny Compton and synth player Fred Szymanski, Ike Yard’s second release (following the “Night After Night” 12-inch, issued in 1981 by Les Disques Du Crépuscule, a label associated with a few Factory bands. It’s slated for reissue in August by Superior Viaduct) fits into Factory’s post-punk scheme quite nicely while also standing out and being stylistically prescient, distinguishing them as an influential cult band.

This appears to be the first US vinyl reissue for this album (there was a French pressing in 2012), but the music was notably released by the Acute label in 2006 on the CD 1980-82 Collected; that was a welcome set, as original copies of Ike Yard’s releases aren’t exactly common in the bins, which makes Superior Viaduct’s endeavor especially appealing for vinyl lovers who favor electronics-infused experimental rock. As said, the music here oozes chilly alienation that’s right up Tony Wilson’s alley, but with an edge that situates the band as evolving out of their city’s No Wave scene. Sort of by extension, the danceability of their stuff, which draws fair comparisons to other Factory signees (A Certain Ratio, Section 25) and as Superior Viaduct points out, Cabaret Voltaire and Front 242, never registers as Ike Yard’s main goal, which is a big part of why this record continues to hit so hard. Essential for post-punk collectors. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Pharis & Jason Romero, Bet on Love (Lula) Residing in Horsefly, British Columbia, Canada, the married folk-Americana-bluegrass duo of Pharis & Jason Romano also make instruments. Specifically, they build banjos, and Bet on Love, the fifth album for the Juno Award winners, was recorded in their shop at home. It’s a delightful record evincing strong ties to the old-time folk root while flowing forth with bright, crisp production that places the album as a contemporary release, if one unburdened by any trends of the moment. Put another way, the Romeros aren’t throwing back to the past, but instead, being deeply invested in tradition (as instrument builders, more so than most), are carrying the old styles into the present with clarity that’s reflected in Bet on Love’s expert musicianship.

The reliable anchor of Patrick Metzger’s double bass and the strumming and occasional flourishes of John Reischman’s mandolin aside, Bet on Love ultimately lands nearer to Americana than the elevated ensemble flair of bluegrass. But happily, the record lacks the mild-mannered sensibility that hinders, at least for this listener, so many current practitioners of the Americana style. This shouldn’t suggest that the music here isn’t primed to be soaked up without a hindrance by as many receptive ears as possible, it’s just that the beauty with which this album is infused is delivered with considerable power. Part of this intensity derives from the sturdy folk foundation, but a larger reason comes down to the sheer gorgeousness of Pharis Romero’s voice, which hits a peak in the record’s title track but sounds splendid throughout. She also plays guitar as Jason utilizes a variety of banjos and guitars; while often pretty, the playing is better assessed as possessing great verve. A magnificent set, on vinyl and compact disc. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: V/A, Early Works: Funk, Soul & Afro Rarities from the Archives (ATA) Whether it’s releases by The Sorcerers, The Magnificent Tape Band, The Lewis Express, Abstract Orchestra, Rachel Modest, or Tony Burkill, the ATA label, based in Leeds, UK, has made it crystal clear that contemporary funky soulfulness in a classic vein isn’t exclusively the provenance of US labels like Daptone, Big Crown, and Colemine. The label of Neil Innes & Pete Williams, ATA commenced operations in 2013 and not long after had their initial work compiled by the Here & Now label in an edition of 300 copies that sold out in weeks. With new artwork, notes that illuminate the label’s origins, and a slightly altered title, this is a welcome reissue.

That Innes and Williams are involved with everything lends cohesiveness to the whole, as does the largely instrumental nature, which helps the label to standout a bit, though the approach does bring them into the general proximity of Big Crown. Still, ATA’s stuff hits hard but is noticeably distinct from the work of Leon Michels, frequently coming off as a neo-library music experience. However, the sitar and flute in “Thought Forms” by um, Ivan Von Engelberger’s Asteroid is tasty neo-psych. I also adore the ripping baritone sax in “Hawkshaw Philly” by The Yorkshire Film And Television Orchestra, which is a late standout. There are also two vocal cuts courtesy of Cleveland Freckleton, though for one he goes under the handle Reverend Barrington Stanley. Represented by three cuts, The Sorcerers bring some Ethio-jazz to the table with “Elephant,” while The Cadets cinch up a soul-jazzy finale with “What Are We Made Of.” This album is great for dancing in your sock feet on the hard word floor of the living room. I tried it. A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Soft Pink Truth, Shall We Go on Sinning so That Grace May Increase? (Thrill Jockey) Conceived by Drew Daniel of Matmos, the latest release in this long-running if on-again-off-again project is a direct byproduct of the artist’s desire to respond emotionally and artistically to creeping global fascism, generally, and a certain narcissistic incompetent’s election to the US Presidency, more directly. He’s further stated that he didn’t want to make “angry white guy” music, which means this album (available digitally today and out on vinyl June 19, understandably delayed due to pressing plant safety issues related to Covid-19) isn’t an exercise in sloganeering or didacticism, a lack that’s appreciated but frankly not especially surprising, as Daniel isn’t a strong candidate for making like a pissed-off Caucasian on record, even as a portion of The Soft Pink Truth’s catalog is dedicated to interpretations of what many (not me) would dismiss as “angry white guy” music.

I’m talking about Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want The Soft Pink Truth? (described as “electronic interpretations of UK punk and American hardcore songs”) and Why Do the Heathen Rage? (“electronic profanations of black metal classics”). And yet it’s important to note The Soft Pink Truth began as a challenge to Daniel to make a house record, a root that’s manifest here in the decidedly club-friendly second track “We.” Although Daniel’s engagement with the house style isn’t sustained through this record, the music still coheres into a life-affirming whole, with moments that can even be called joyous. Furthermore, The choice of a biblical quote, specifically from Paul the Apostle, has been explained as relating to Daniel’s “creative practice and how one should live in the world,” but the title also gets to how the music provides a “much-needed escape” while avoiding the pitfalls of escapism. Shall We Go on Sinning so That Grace May Increase? can be thought of as gospel music for these troubled times. A

ONO, Red Summer (American Dreams) Now, Chicago’s ONO have been called a “gospel industrial band” and “punk-gospel-noise.” These may seem unusual juxtapositions, so here’s the statement of purpose from the group’s website: ONO is an “Experimental, Noise and Industrial Poetry Performance Band Exploring Gospel’s Darkest Conflicts, Tragedies and Premises.” Noise is amongst the most confrontational of musics; most find it something to abjure, while a smaller number welcome it as a presence to be reckoned with; it can’t exist as background, and resists being ignored. The industrial genre, in its earliest years, was in many ways an offshoot, or indeed, an early incarnation of noise music, which had yet to really be articulated as a form.

ONO spans back to this era, formed in 1980 by P Michael Grego and travis, the former handling the audio, the latter the words, with records released in ’83 (Machines That Kill People) and ’86 (Ennui) for the noted San Francisco punk indie label Thermidor (both were reissued in limited editions in 2013 and ’15, respectively, by the Galactic Archive label). Now, ONO’s music might seem an odd fit for the gospel tag, but if confrontational, Red Summer is, per the above statement of purpose, contending with the past and how it impacts the present, and all in hopes of a better future. Over the decades, the lineup has changed a lot, but P Michael (here on samplers, drum machine, bass, and synthesizer) and travis (again, the words and vocals) have been the constants, with work on Red Summer commencing in 2015.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Six

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Damien Jurado, What’s New, Tomboy? (Mama Bird Recording Co. / Loose) I got into Jurado’s work pretty early on, shortly after his second album, 1999’s Rehearsals for Departure, came out on Sub Pop. I was pretty taken with that one and his follow-up from 2000, Ghost of David, enough so that I picked up a bunch of his subsequent stuff, which consisted of one more for Sub Pop and then a bunch for Secretly Canadian. And I can’t say I was let down by any of it; the guy’s consistency as a singer-songwriter in what I’ll succinctly call the post-Neil Young tradition is striking and a bit reminiscent of another guy I stumbled onto around the same time, Richard Buckner, not because they sound similar (they do, and yet they don’t), but because they were able to turn that tradition into something that was very much their own.

But I must confess that I lost track of Jurado’s work around 2012, right about when his album Maraqopa came out. This drifting apart was mainly down to his prolificacy before and since, as this new record is his 15th full-length (and he has a slew of EPs and singles, as well). This is not the only instance where I’ve disconnected from a musician or band for no fault of theirs, though sometimes return engagements can prove to be a letdown. Well, happily, not here, as What’s New, Tomboy? unwinds with confidence and verve, just like I remember it, though I don’t want to infer that he hasn’t grown as a musician since the last I heard him. No, the songs consistently impressed upon me that Jurado is in strong creative form, and it wasn’t until roughly halfway into the record and “Francine” (with its terrific vibes playing and fingerpicking) that I was reminded of the influence of ol’ Neil. From there, Jurado continues to exemplify everything that is worthwhile at the crossroads of indie and folk. Now, to catch up on what I missed. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sopwith Camel, The Miraculous Hump Returns from the Moon (Real Gone) As is the case with countless acts, maybe the least interesting thing about Sopwith Camel was their hit single, namely “Hello Hello,” which made it all the way to No. 26 in ’67. That might be overstating matters a bit, but it’s in aid of explaining how this San Francisco outfit’s long-delayed second album didn’t come completely out of nowhere. But still. Reformed with all the original members except one, the sound of Sopwith Camel circa ’73 had almost nothing to do with the Lovin’ Spoonful-Mamas & Papas neo-vaudeville pop of their earlier days, instead diving into a merger of funkiness, soft rock and spaciness, though a few songs on side two do reinforce a connection to what they sounded like before.

Now, I’ll confess to coming to Miraculous Hump with fresh ears. If the record had a cult following, I wasn’t clued in, and will admit to being more than a little skeptical over the specialness of the situation as proclaimed in the 2014 Guardian article cited in the press for this reissue, which was released in late March in a limited edition of 750 on marbled smoke vinyl (and still available). However, checking this out establishes it as much more than a curiosity (if not quite as amazing as some of the praise has it). As a lot had transpired in the period between the group’s two albums, that they migrated toward what is at times reminiscent of Steely Dan mating with Santana in a Seals & Crofts state of mind shouldn’t be a shock, but that it holds together so well, kinda is. It’s so effective that the later cuts which recall their earlier incarnation have an almost Bonzo Dog Band goes soft rock feel. Cuh-razy. I also have a creeping suspicion that folks into Shuggie Otis will dig this. B+

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Bad History Month, Old Blues (Exploding in Sound) Before releasing Dead and Loving It: An Introductory Exploration Of Pessimysticism as Bad History Month in 2017, vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Sean Sprecher was half of Fat History Month with drummer Mark Fede. This is his second album on his own, and it attains a level of introspection that has been tagged, at least once, as emo, though the songs here exude the quality of being well read that borders on the intellectual, and certainly literary, so that I’m reminded more of David Berman and Bill Callahan (plus, anybody who cops the name of a Mel Brooks movie for an album title is on to something more than the dour self-seriousness/ self-absorption that mars so much emo).

But on a purely musical level, Old Blues productively branches out a bit, at times recalling early Sebadoh, though I’ll emphasize these moments are fleeting. Furthermore, because hardly anything here moves particularly fast, the sound and perhaps better said, the mood, can bring to mind slowcore, and spiked with flareups of loner folk. But upon consideration, Sprecher, with Fede producing, has labored over an immersive set of music, as sharp instrumentally as it is vividly (and complexly) observational, that isn’t easily comparable to any other artist or band. Bookended by two long, shape shifting, and thematically linked tracks in “Waste Not” (13 minutes) an “Want Not” (15 minutes) that reinforce the heights of Sprecher’s ambition, the five shorter cuts productively contrast through restraint. In the end, Old Blues sounds like the kind of record that might’ve been squirted out by an indie label in the mid-’90s to a gradually increasing and passionate cult following. That’s a welcome gift in 2020. A

Lewsberg, In This House (12XU) The second LP from this Rotterdam, Netherlands-based band is the first to get a US release. Anybody into art-punk/ post-punk should investigate its ten tracks with haste, for they cohere into a stone killer. Utilizing the tried-and-true lineup of dual guitars (Arie van Vliet, Michael Klein), bass (Shalita Dietrich), drums (Dico Kruijsse) and vocals (Klein sings lead save for one track and Dietrich handles the occasional backing except for her turn up front), In This House is the latest in a long line of examples that underscore the inexhaustible inspiration of the Velvet Underground, although as in the finest prior instances of this influence, the Velvets are largely employed as a foundation rather than as a full-on template. I say largely because “Cold Light of Day” is a slice of VU action that’s completely, some might say flagrantly, undisguised, and an utter gem in the category of how to do it right.

That is, it’s never a mere copy. The other nine songs serve up a full platter of the aforementioned art-punk/ post-punk with range that’s subtly expressed as it firmly reinforces Lewsberg as a band with a focused sound. The simple fact of the matter is the genre in which they excel doesn’t often hang together in full albums by one band (those cornerstone art-punk/ post-punk LPs have attained that stature for a reason), much less a stunner on the level of In This House. And they’ve done it twice; I went back and checked their eponymous debut from 2018, and it kicks, just not as hard as this one. That’s great, and even rarer. Another cool turn of events is how Dietrich’s lead vocal in “Jacob’s Ladder” hit me like Kendra Smith’s did the first time I listened to The Days of Wine and Roses. If you dig the VU and The Dream Syndicate but also love The Fall, this LP could be your new fave. A

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Four

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: GRID, Decomposing Force (NNA Tapes) Featuring Matt Nelson (Battle Trance, Elder Ones) on saxophone, Tim Dahl (Child Abuse, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus) on bass, and Nick Podgurski (New Firmament, Feast of the Epiphany) on drums, this is GRID’s second album after a self-titled debut in 2017 (that one’s still available on cassette, this one’s on LP), though last year they also collaborated with Lydia Lunch on a sweet track as tribute to key Beat writer Herbert Huncke. Decomposing Force is a brutal but also atmospheric slab of post-free jazz-molten noise-Industrial strength improv scorch that should briefly cheer up those who are perpetually saddened by the lack of biannual releases from Borbetomagus. It’s not quite as hammer-down as that trio (notice I said atmospheric) but it definitely has the potential to be a room clearer. So, don’t play it during quarantine. Unless you’re hanging with a bunch of Wolf Eyes fans, in which case the party’s just getting started. What a lucky fucker you are. A

Harkin, S/T (Hand Mirror) Although she has a ton of experience as a touring musician along with a few studio credits including Waxahatchee’s Out in the Storm, this is the debut from Katie Harkin, which is also the first release on the ambitious new label she’s formed with her partner, the writer Kate Leah Hewell (they describe Hand Mirror as a “creative community,” with literary publications and live events part of the plan). The eponymous effort is a solid one, reinforcing her background along with smarts in choosing collaborators; the set features the drums of Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint) and Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Bon Iver). Additionally, Harkin reveals savvy in combining a live foundation with electronic elements including samples and synths.

As said, savvy: the record doesn’t really go in for an electro-poppy sound but is instead mildly reminiscent of the sorta “serious” high-tech album statements that occasionally emerged during the 1980s, though even with a few post-Gothy strains and Kate Bushy motions, this general tendency doesn’t feel like a calculated state of affairs (which is to say, maybe you won’t hear it, and it might’ve not been her intention). Part of why has to do with Harkin’s guitar playing, which is most assertive early (vaguely like Barney Sumner in early New Order in opener “Mist on Glass”) and late (in closer “Charm and Tedium”), but the biggest reason is that it’s clear Harkin isn’t striving to fit into any sort of stylistic niche. Her songs are as strong as her singing, and I’d say this is a promising record, but really, she’s already essentially delivered. A-

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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