Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, April 2017

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for April, 2017. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Valgeir Sigurðsson, Dissonance (Bedroom Community) Sigurðsson has accrued a long list of production credits, working extensively with Bjork, Sigur Rós, Ben Frost and others. This is his first solo release as composer since 2012’s Architecture of Loss, and the combination of electronics (by Sigurðsson) and the sustained hugeness of the string and wind ensemble is a stunning thing to hear, particularly on the 23-minute Mozart-inspired title piece. This is a must for fans of undiluted chamber ambiance, but don’t dally; the 1,000 LPs are rapidly disappearing. CDs and digital are also available. A

Glenn Jones & Matthew Azevedo, Waterworks (Thrill Jockey) This live document from Boston’s Metropolitan Waterworks Museum’s Great Engine Hall pairs Jones’ ever-brilliant guitar and banjo with Azevedo’s sonic manipulations and additives (including field recordings and harmonium), and it’s a total success. Partly due to the bond of the principals, with Azevedo described as Jones’ “mastering guru of 15 years,” and additionally through sensible preparation, the music transcends the acoustic challenges of the structure and entirely eschews the hit-and-miss aura of experimental collaboration. A

REISSUE PICKS: George Gurdjieff / Thomas de Hartmann, The Music of Gurdjieff (Light in the Attic) this astounding 5LP documents philosopher, spiritual teacher, and composer G. I. Gurdjieff’s collaboration with student Thomas de Hartmann. From 1923-’29 de Hartmann translated to European notation the music Gurdjieff composed during his travels in the Middle East and Central Asia; De Hartmann’s solo piano recordings of the results date from the ’50s and weren’t intended for commercial release. Often gentle, the playing never weakens into aural wallpaper, and the use of silence is captivating. A

Meredith Monk, Key (Tompkins Square) Reissue of Monk’s 1971 debut for Increase Records of music composed between ’67 and ’70. First recordings are regularly developmental in nature, but the pieces here, featuring Monk playing organ and Jew’s harp and singing in her uniquely operatic style, are remarkably solid in their foundation. Key still gets pegged as a formative work with some regularity, mainly because she went on to create masterpieces, but as “Fat Stream” highlights, she wasn’t far from that plateau out of the gate. Fans of the 20th century avant-garde tradition should not pass this up. A-

Arranged Marriage NP, S/T (Team Love) These four tracks, described by guitarist Jerry Adler as “sonic ragas,” hover around the ten-minute mark as sitar player Mustafa Bhagat completes the duo. The immediately identifiable sonic textures of Bhagat’s instrument certainly underscore the raga sensibility, but please don’t pigeonhole this as a sandalwood-scented zone-out. ‘Tis psychedelic to be sure, but the sitar never succumbs to triteness, and Adler’s string wrangling (he also contributes synth) gets attractively noisy at times. Drones are prevalent, and a field recording/industrial vibe arises late. B+

Blackfoot Gypsies, To the Top (Plowboy) Hailing from Nashville, the Gypsies sprang to life as the duo of singer-guitarist Matthew Paige and drummer Zack Murphy, but the full-on rocking affair now includes bassist Dylan Whitlow and harmonica blower Ollie Dog. One glance at the cover photo will drive home a fondness for sharp threads, and their sartorial decisions are in keeping with the garage stomping, blues, and country-tinged ’60s-’70s Stones-infused swagger of their approach. The CD has five extra tracks, but it’s the slimmer LP version that packs the heavier punch. B+

Butcher Boy, “Bad Things Happen When It’s Quiet” EP (Damaged Goods) This Scottish group led by vocalist-songwriter John Blain Hunt might seem an unusual addition to this label’s roster, as much of Damaged Goods’ energy is devoted to various strains of punk both old and new, but they’ve been in cahoots since the release of 2011’s Helping Hands, and with a little time spent the relationship becomes fully comprehensible. Sometimes compared to Belle & Sabastian, Butcher Boy is nearer to Tindersticks, Lloyd Cole, and countrymen The Blue Nile, but with a subtle working class undercurrent. Well done. B+

Encono, Centraal (BCore Disc) Second album from this Alicante Spain-based trio, but the first to make my acquaintance. Amongst other references, BCore mentions the Unsane, Jesus Lizard, Shellac, and Big Business; all are on the money, though these guys have a melodic side that distinguishes them from the four. If not as paint-stripping as prime Unsane, the sustained bass distortion does strengthen the comparison to Big Biz, and the overall heft of the sound would’ve fit into the ’89-’95 Touch and Go roster without a snag. I enjoyed the Spanish vocals, especially in standout closer “Sed Industrial.” B+

Gas, Narkopop (Kompakt) Following 2016’s outstanding 10LP discographical assemblage Box, Wolfgang Voigt returns with a new recording, fittingly spread across three vinyl albums with a 24-page hardcover book (a compact disc-book option is also available). The deserved fanfare around Box has perhaps minimized that it’s been 17 years since fresh Gas material hit the racks, but these ten selections establish that Voigt’s experimental-ambient approach hasn’t faltered. Accurately described as being less loop-based than prior efforts, the whole is still quite recognizable. A fine return. A-

Brian Gibson, Thumper (Thrill Jockey) Gibson is the bass playing half of Rhode Island noise-rock behemoths Lightning Bolt. He’s also a video game specialist, having co-designed Thumper and created its art and music; this is its “soundtrack.” Details of Thumper, which is succinctly described as a “rhythm game” (a style that includes Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution), are fascinating, particularly to this non-player, and even better is how cognizance of the tracks as template for assorted possibilities enhances the listening. To put it another way, the synth-based heaviness never gets stale. A-

Guitar Slim Jr., The Story of My Life (Orleans) Although some peg him as a one hit wonder, Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones was a highly influential guitarist, and nowhere more so than on his son; this 1988 debut LP by Guitar Slim Jr. (born Rodney Glenn Armstrong) features seven of his dad’s tunes. As a blues player, Jr. is clearly impacted by many of the subsequent stylists who copped a move or two from his father, especially Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, meaning the urban sound here is muscular instead of slick. The album’s flow is somewhat impeded by three soul numbers (which sound perfectly okay separately). B

Ism, A Diet for the Worms (Ship to Shore PhonoCo) A steaming jumbo slice of NY hardcore punk history. Dating from ’83 and adding B-side “A7” to an LP that was already too long, these 15 tracks are largely non-generic, helped in part by keyboards. I dissent from the belief that NYC was a prime locale for hardcore, but this comes relatively early in the genre’s chronology and holds up rather well…on a purely musical level. From a lyrical standpoint, much of this is…well, its reactionary, let’s not sugarcoat it. But hey, that’s punk in the ’80s; for counterbalance pick up the reish of the Proletariat’s Soma Holiday. B

Oneida, Live at Secret Planet Robot (Safety Meeting) Ideally, a live recording should capture the unstrained specialness of the performance captured, and this one from 2015, which documents a seven-piece Oneida lineup roping in Yo La Tengo’s James McNew and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, fits the bill rather well. At this point, McNew had played with the group for a few years, and with Ranaldo an experienced hand at this style of expansiveness, there’s nary a hint of the tentative across a flowing 80-minute set. Overall, the case for Oneida as one of our finest contempo psych acts is strengthened. A-

OST, Psychic Migrations (Cinewax – Volcom Stone) The musical accompaniment to Ryan Thomas’ surfing doc (from the clips I’ve glimpsed, it looks terrific) opens with a track from the above Gurdjieff/ de Hartmann collection, a choice giving the psych rock excursions to follow a slightly deeper hue. Cave, Thee Oh Sees, White Fence, Tracy Bryant, and Wand steer this 2LP gatefold limited edition (1,000 copies worldwide) into the garage, but selections from Al Lover and superb long pieces by Sir Richard Bishop and Bitchin Bajas chart expeditions into the deep weeds of an expansive backyard. A-

Art Pepper Quartet, S/T (Omnivore) Originally on the obscure Tampa label, the great altoist is joined by pianist Russ Freeman, bassist Ben Tucker, and drummer Gary Frommer. As Omnivore explains in their promo blurb, this session is from the same year as the masterful Meets the Rhythm Section; of course, hardly anybody ever mentions this one, partially because it’s not as musically brilliant, and neither is it as storied. More directly, the lack of profile relates to long stretches of unavailability; here it is with an alternate take of “Blues at Twilight” making its vinyl debut (‘twas previously on the OJC CD reissue). A-

Superchunk, Cup of Sand (Merge) This ’03 set, the third in a reliably spiff series of singles and stray tracks ‘chunk comps, makes its vinyl debut with three extras, specifically “Everyone Gets Crushed” (from Kill Rock Stars’ Tracks and Fields), a solid workout on The Clean’s classic “Anything Could Happen” (from Survive and Advance Vol. 2) and “Freaks in Charge” (from the 3CD Merge anniversary comp Old Enough to Know Better) spreading the total across three LPs. Overall, a document of maturity while nodding toward younger days through covers of Bowie, Adam and the Ants, and Government Issue. B+

UGK, Too Hard to Swallow (Get on Down) Like many I’m guessing, my introduction to this Texas duo (featuring Bun B and the late Pimp C) came through “Pocket Full of Stones” from the Menace II Society soundtrack. Riveting in its assured simplicity, that saga of the crack-slinging life delivers a standout to this, their ’92 debut. Although the Underground Kingz had self-released a prior cassette, Too Hard to Swallow came out on Jive and gave them their first taste of national exposure. Raw, rude, and disinterested in anybody’s approval, the results are formative but often gripping. B+

V/A, “Balkans-Pedro Four-Way” (ORG) Features four acts covering each other’s tunes, an idea that always seems like a cinch for repeated plays but hardly ever delivers on the potential. This one does much better than most; Croatia’s Thee Melomen wield a ’60s garage approach, while Slovenia’s Vasko Atanasovski explores a far more contempo melodic electronic angle. The flip’s the real treat, as Serbia’s Disciplin A Kitschme give the Minutemen’s “No One” a bluesy transfusion and Pedro, CA’s Mike Watt + the Secondmen dish out a swank punk-prog take of Disciplin A Kitschme’s “Do Not.” B+

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