Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, December 2016

The TVD Record Store Club’s look at the brand new wax presently in stores for December, 2016. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: Virginia Wing, Forward Constant Motion (Fire) Alice Merida Richards and Sam Pillay currently shape-up Birmingham, UK’s Virginia Wing, the pair deserving commendation for crafting an experimental-leaning strain of electro-pop lacking in cliché if not familiarity; the whole continues to radiate as an extension of Broadcast or to a lesser extent Stereolab as the motorik element found on last year’s Measures of Joy has essentially vacated the premises with drummer Sebastian Truskolaski. “Grapefruit” has been chosen as the LP’s first single, and it’s an exquisite entryway into their sound. A-

REISSUE PICK: OST, Chinatown (Cinewax) Jerry Goldsmith remains amongst cinema’s most distinguished composers. That he wrote and recorded this soundtrack for Roman Polanski’s masterwork in just ten days (after producer Robert Evans nixed the efforts of Phillip Lambro) only reinforces his stature; it’s probably (though arguably) Goldsmith’s finest achievement. Scoring a neo-noir from the midst of the New Hollywood era, this embodies, stains against, and breaks completely with narrative filmic norms as the period-enhancing pop standards are flawlessly executed. The result is 31 minutes of brilliance. A+

Asteroid, III (Fuzzorama) This Örebro Sweden-based trio fits rather snuggly into a heavy psych/ stoner rock mold, but unlike many of their contemporaries they’re handy with a song. Guitarist Robin Hirse’s deft melodic touch, apparent from the lead slide in opener “Pale Moon,” helps to elevate this beyond mere riff motion, but fans of that tactic will still find satisfaction, especially in “Wolf & Snake” and “Them Calling” as both tracks are loaded with textures underlining their relationship with Fuzzorama. The vocals are emotive (with harmonies, even) but they mostly avoid lessening the overall value. B+

Jon Camp, Stifled Hair-Trigger (Self-released) 2016 has been a lousy year by any metric, but the proliferation of prime-grade Guitar Soli has helped to keep the horrors and anguish somewhat at bay; those who can’t get enough experimental-tinged fingerpicking should consider investigating this Washington, DC-based practitioner’s full-length debut. Camp also indulges in bit of instrumental post-rock on the latter portion of the set; my lingering impression is that the stylistic expansion isn’t an improvement, but neither is it terribly detrimental. “Christian, the World is Yours” is a standout. B

Cat-Iron, Sings Blues and Hymns (Exit Stencil) Excellent reissue of the only recordings by Natchez, Mississippi singer-guitarist William Carradine as released in 1958 by Folkways. Cat-Iron wasn’t a nickname but a mishearing of his surname by rediscoverer Frederic Ramsey, Jr., and as the title indicates the record is cleaved between blues and spirituals. Continuity is established through potent vocalizing and string work, reminiscent at times of Son House, so gospel-blues fans shouldn’t hesitate to grab a copy. Only 500 have been pressed, on yellow vinyl like the original. A-

Datura4, Hairy Mountain (Alive! Naturalsound) This Western Australian four-piece specializes in psych-blues-boogie, and they’ve been cited as extending the musical mores of their countrymen Buffalo, The Aztecs, and Coloured Balls; featuring the dual guitars of Dom Mariani (of the Stems and DM3) and Greg Hitchcock (who was briefly in the New Christs), this sophomore effort shines brightest in direct proportion to its pedal-induced amp burn, of which there is a surplus. The songs are more than just vessels for flights of controlled distortion though, and the rhythm section hits hard throughout. B+

ESP Ohio, Starting Point of the Royal Cyclopean (Rockathon) Due to the involvement of ’97-’04 Guided by Voices-guitarist Doug Gillard, this latest project from Buckeye State song fount Robert Pollard can trigger the occasional urge to overrate. The bigness of the playing and the clarity of the production does recall the music GbV made before calling it quits the first time, but through an intermittent flare-up of Pollard’s prog muscle his subsequent activity with Gillard in Lifeguards is just as fitting a comparison. It’s doubtful this album will blow many minds, but it’s still an engaging and focused affair. B+

Jack Lee, Bigger Than Life: Anthology (Alive! Naturalsound) It was Lee who wrote “Hangin’ on the Telephone,” and yet his profile still suffers in comparison to his bandmates in the Nerves, Paul Collins, and Peter Case. Comprised of Lee’s hard to find ’81 and ’85 albums plus B-side “Small World,” this 2LP should give recent converts to the power-pop cause reason to celebrate. “Hangin’…” and a few other Nerves tunes are given solid updates, but this largely resists falling back on past laurels. Dated production does abound, particularly on the ’85 stuff, but the quality songwriting still shines through. B+

Rudy Ray Moore, The Rudy Ray Moore Christmas Album: This Ain’t No White Christmas! (Dolemite Records/ Get On Down) Looking to smutty-up your holiday? Hey, who isn’t? This reissue/ update of a ’71 Kent LP in a typically salacious jacket (depicting au naturale Xmas tree decoration) actually holds a few rare examples of Moore in clean mode, though by the end of side two he’s achieved an expected level of raunchiness. It’s not for everybody, but for those fatigued by the demands of the season the rugged behind-the-counter ambiance could easily release some tension. It’s far preferable to Bad Santa 2. B+

OST, The Irony of Fate (Earth Recordings) In 2015 this same label brought out Film Music, a compendium of work by accomplished if underheard Soviet composer Mikael Tariverdiev; judging by the appearance of this LP that set was a major success. Much of this score to a 1976 smash hit (in the Soviet Union; it’s yet to work up much of a cinephile following in the rest of the world) is found on the prior collection, yet the heightened specificity is still highly appreciated; Tariverdiev alternates LeGrand-ish sweep with more intimate moments (picture bohemians lounging in smoky cafés) into an attractive whole. A

OST, The Mind’s Eye (Relapse) The IMDB synopsis of this film offers two individuals with “incredible psychokinetic capabilities” in conflict with a “deranged doctor intent on harvesting their powers.” There’s a capture, escape, and pursuit; judging by this 2LP, it all apparently takes place in the 1980s. Steve Moore (of Zombi fame) constructs a synth and keyboard-infused score that’s likely to caress fans of John Carpenter’s musical output in a very special place. Essentially the same length as the movie, this is a lot of listening, but inspiration and inventiveness consistently overcome the hackneyed. B+

Leon Redbone, Long Way from Home and On the Track (Third Man) An inconsistent and now retired recording artist, the uncovered early live radio material on Long Way from Home sits in striking contrast with Redbone’s studio debut. Coming out of left-field in the mid-’70s, On the Track introduced a uniquely anachronistic but essentially straight-ahead performer illuminated by a sterling crew of accompanists including the great violinist Joe Venuti. This live prelude consists of just guitar and that voice, spotlighting his ability as an all-around songster-picker with an emphasis on the blues. A- / A-

Remedy, The Golden Voice Sessions 1970-1974 (Alona’s Dream) The latest in Alona’s Dream’s clearing of the South Pekin, Illinois Golden Voice Recording studio’s vaults. If the subject matter seems a mite esoteric, please understand that if barely remembered today, Remedy managed to open for Sugarloaf, Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper (twice). Featuring seven originals and a snappy closing cover of Sly Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher,” the band’s hard-edge surely appealed to the rockers as they were melodic enough to engage a wider audience. Not a mindblower, but heavy ’70s heads will want to inspect. B

Mark Sultan, BBQ (In the Red) The one-man band impulse has a long and admirable history, but it’s hard to deny that many who choose to go it alone, even some highly-regarded examples, fall short of maintaining a high standard of quality. This only adds to Mark Sultan’s specialness. Undeniably punky (in a late ’70s way), the man known as BBQ is even more enamored of songs, and herein he fruitfully explores the inexhaustible fount of teenage sadness and alienation. But don’t assume he’s in full doo-wop flower here; ‘tis more garaged-out, yet in typically sweet voice. A-

Swirlies, Blonder Tongue Audio Baton (Taang!) My fave thing about Beantown’s Swirlies will probably always be “Chris R.,” said tune delivering the opening track to the terrific ’90s indie pop compilation One Last Kiss (it’s also nestled on their ’92 EP “What to Do About Them?”), but this, the group’s first full-length, isn’t far behind. Those confusing rawness and racket with lo-fi have sometimes lumped this album into that camp, but in fact a big sound is on offer here as engineered and co-produced by Rich Costey. Folks pleased with the recent Grifters reissues are likely to feel similarly for this. A-

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders, Outskirts of Your Heart (Hound Gawd!) 10th anniversary reissue and the first time on vinyl for the impressive and quite generous debut by the group Todd formed after the breakup of the oft-underrated Lazy Cowgirls. Loaded with 28 tracks, Todd kept a handle on the punk edge of his prior work while integrating roots elements and songwriting maturity, and that he maintains such high quality throughout is a major achievement; this type of no-frills hard-edged R&R usually gets proportioned in smaller doses, so this is like three albums in one flowing package. A-

V/A, Pop Ambient 2017 (Kompakt) The 17th entry in this series shows no signs of creative exhaustion, likely because label owner and musician Wolfgang Voigt has continued his role as “chief curator,” even getting in on the remix game here, and doing the honors to “Hal” by Soulsavers. Solidly in the ambient tradition (the cover even looks like the CDs found in a rack by the cash register in a shop that sells New Age gear…or alternately, Power, Corruption & Lies), the contents still display a wide range. I especially like Max Würden’s guitar-tinged “Fernfeld” and Leandro Fresco’s cyclical “El Abismo.” A-

V/A, The Second Coming of Heavy Vol. 4 (Ripple) The latest in this label’s split-LP documentation of current stoner concerns. Red Mesa’s moniker, locale (Albuquerque), and song titles (“Cactus Highway,” Goin’ to the Desert”) cultivate a decidedly dusty Southwestern US theme, but their four songs are far too formulaic and vocally extroverted to appeal to these ears. Ann Arbor, MI’s Blue Snaggletooth tag their din as “Psychedelic D&D Rock & Roll,” which basically equates to stoner rock with a touch of boogie; while not startling, they do raise the success level of this edition. (Out 12/9) B-

The Wedding Present, Going, Going… (HHBTM) Earlier in 2016 HHBTM dished wax of The Weddoes’ 2005 effort Take Fountain and follow it up here with a 2LP/DVD set of the group’s latest (available outside the US on Scopitones). It opens with a series of largely instrumental and somewhat post-rock pieces, an unusual and intriguing turn as each of the 20 tracks is accompanied by a short film pertaining to a cross-country US trip David Gedge undertook in ’14 with photographer Jessica McMillan. Overlong, but fittingly so, with a few gems including “Bells” and closer “Santa Monica.” B+

Hannah Williams & the Affirmations, Late Nights & Heartbreak (Record Kicks) Solid sophomore effort from a powerful UK-based neo-soul voice and capable band with smart production by Malcolm Catto. Record Kicks has wisely chosen “Dazed and Confused,” an excellent reading with ties to both Jake Holmes’ original and Zep’s proto-metal blast, as a single. A problem here is long running-time lessening the overall impact, though individually, the stretching out of a few tracks is very much appreciated. Finale “Your Luck Can Change” stresses Williams’ knowledge of the form. B+

Yarn/Wire, Currents Vol. 4 (Self-released) NYC-based percussionists Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg and pianists Laura Barger and Ning Yu are Yarn/Wire; in 2013 they commenced a yearly composer-collaboration designed by the quartet to “serve as an incubator for new experimental music.” This latest installment is a considerable success. The composers here are Catherine Lamb, Alvin Lucier, and Anthony Vine; Lamb’s piece exudes appealing drone-atmosphere, veteran Lucier intemingles repetition and variation, and the midst of Vine’s entry explores a recognizably avant-classical zone. A-

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