Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, July 2016

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new or reissued wax presently in stores for July, 2016. Part one can be found here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (Relapse) This Richmond, VA five-piece breaks the 70-minute barrier without losing points at the finish line; along the way the sound is about as heavy as metal gets, combining doom, crunch, growl, and pummel with surprising attention to songwriting. They also resist clichés, impressively so given the duration, and consistently broach the unexpected; there are soaring guitar motifs, stately piano, and in the midst of “Primordial Wound” agitated, higher pitched vocals, delivering a highlight to this remarkable whole. A

REISSUE PICK: V/A, Tanbou Toujou Lou: Meringue, Kompa Kreyol, Vodou Jazz, & Electric Folklore from Haiti 1960 – 1981 (Ostinato) Producer-researcher Vik Sohonie adopts the generosity of a DJ alongside his scholarly approach (he also penned the liner notes) and like a record spinner he favors the impulse to dance, but his finds are so instrumentally rich and varied, spanning from small groups to big bands and urban sophistication to rural gusto, that the program should easily please those afflicted with two left flippers. Available on CD and gatefold 2LP with a 20-page booklet, this is a stone winner all around. A

Glenn Branca, Symphony No. 13 (Hallucination City) for 100 Guitars (Atavistic) Plus one drummer (Virgil Moorefield). Documenting a Feb 28, 2008 performance from the Auditorium Parco Della Musica in Rome, in terms of massive scale the sounds on this CD really deliver, but even more impressive is the litheness and the complete non-gimmickry on display throughout the piece’s four sections; that is, the heaviness, which again is substantial, never falls victim to grandiosity and just as often exudes subtlety backing up the claims (for any doubters lingering out there) of Branca as a major composer. A

William Burroughs, Let Me Hang You (Khannibalism/Ernest Jenning Record Co.) This finds Hal Wilner pulling 20-year-old tapes of Burroughs reading from Naked Lunch off the shelf and having King Khan finish them; mingling the original backing of Bill Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Eyvind Kang, and other NYC-based musicians with Khan’s rougher rock-based input, the results are surprisingly cohesive, but the real treat is how Burroughs’ glorious croak reintroduces him as one of the 20th’s great smut peddlers; if you didn’t know Steely Dan was named after a Burroughsian dildo, well, you certainly will after hearing this. B+

John Cage with David Tudor, Variations IV (Modern Harmonic) From a 1965 performance at the Feigen/Palmer Gallery in LA, this captures Cage’s chance compositional period; originally on budget label Everest, this was one of the few Cage LPs intermittently turning up used (at least in my neighborhood) and was also high-test fuel for those rating the man as a provocateur-charlatan rather than a “serious” composer. Briefly, the randomness of this sonic collage brings real uh, variations in quality, but this is a historically important recording and it remains an involving listen over a half century later. A-

Ornette Coleman Quartet, Tribes of New York (Jeanne Dielman) This rounds up five of the then unreleased cuts from the Beauty is a Rare Thing box set and fills out the running time with one from Twins and two from The Art of the Improvisers. As illustrated by To Whom Who Keeps a Record, the range in quality between Ornette’s initial Atlantic LPs and the stuff liberated from the vaults is consistently minor to almost nonexistent, so those just beginning to stock a shelf of Coleman wax shouldn’t hesitate to grab this. Just don’t think it’s an adequate sub for the original albums. A-

Delorean, Muzik (PHLEX) Trying to break up stylistic repetition is an admirable endeavor, but becoming even more entrenched in electronic environs was maybe not the way to go. If not breathtakingly unique, the somewhat New Order-ish division of guitar and tech from the last disc suited them better, though the transition on offer here brings them no nearer to originality; this wouldn’t be a major issue if the songs were up to snuff, but the material was better on Apar. A disappointment, though folks with a ravenous appetite for the style might groove on the general thrust. C+

Mikey Erg, Tentative Decisions (Don Giovanni) I’ve only heard a fraction of Erg’s substantial output; he’s in a whole bunch of different bands (look ‘em up if you don’t believe me), but Don Giovanni is billing this as the guy’s solo debut, so at least I’m on top of this portion of the discography. The contents are an unavoidable plunge into the pop-punk zone, though the term’s negative connotations are sidestepped almost entirely, in part through beefy execution that should appeal to old-school indie rockers and an undercurrent of power pop. Ultimately minor, but in its own odds-defying way kinda amazing. B+

Exhaustion/Wanders, II (Feeding Tube) Utterly swank meeting of Exhaustion, a Melbourne-based noisy rock unit looking to take it farther outside, and Dutch-born tenor saxophonist Kris Wanders, who on this second collab succeeds in leading them into the deep weeds. Before moving to Australia in the late ’70s, Wanders played in the bands of Euro-free heavyweights Peter Brötzmann and recorded with Alexander von Schlippenbach on ’67’s Globe Unity, so he’s a major guy. This consists of two 20 plus minute journeys into beautifully atypical free jazz-noise rock fusion, and is a remarkable and rare thing. A

Nils Frahm & Woodkid ft. Robert De Niro, Ellis (Erased Tapes) Perhaps it’s just the recent rise in global intolerance toward refugees and immigration in general, but these two pieces taken from the soundtrack of the JR-directed short film “Ellis” deliver a significant wallop. Or more accurately the second track, which features De Niro’s narration and Frahm’s harmonium; the first, “Winter Morning I,” also starts out strong with the focus on piano but unfortunately builds toward a nondescript (if not terrible) filmic crescendo. “Winter Morning II” counterbalances this anticlimax pretty well. B+

Heliotropes, Over There That Way (The End) Led by vocalist-songwriter-guitarist Jessica Numsuwankijkul, she’s the only returning member from the debut album and notably heavier affair A Constant Sea. The last record’s closer “Christine” is a good tip to what’s changed; formerly dabbling in near metallic environs, much of what’s here is likely to satisfy indie pop listeners (an observation enhanced by the aged B&W photo on the cover) as ‘Wherever You Live” goes for the full-on ‘50s teen pop shebang complete with saxophone solos. “Dardanelles Part I” sounds like Mazzy Star gone stoner rock. B+

Durand Jones & the Indications, (S/T) (Colemine) Although it’s not dominating the genre, old-school soul and R&B endures in 2016 as it springs up in locales other than NYC. Frankly this is a splendid turn of events, and joining the ranks is this Bloomington, IN group with a very sharp debut album. Jones is rich of voice as confidence keeps him out of the camp of imitators, facets extending to his band, their music securely on the earthy side of the spectrum without registering as calculated revamping of Stax or Hi. Tapping into a deep early ’70s groove (complete with vibes), “Is It Any Wonder” is a total gem. A-

Kel Valhaal, New Introductory Lectures on the System of Transcendental Qabala (YLYLCYN) The WTF quotient is high with this one. Setting aside his guitar, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix of Liturgy throws acid house, glitch, Southern rap, and avant-garde seasoning into a simmering electronic stewpot and comes up with a dish that’s occasionally confounding but more often just relentless. I’ve a very high tolerance for abrasion, racket, noise, etc. so this ended up being pretty underwhelming, and it’s a safe bet it would just end up sitting on the shelf; for a WTF record, that’s the kiss of death. D+

The Mystery Lights, (S/T) (Wick) The first LP on this Daptone subsidiary is a killer slab of raw ’60s garage. While not as punk as The Ar-Kaics, these guys are still properly surly and nicely avoid regurgitating the elements of Nuggets best appreciated as part of the era, e.g. no goofy psych gestures or overzealous vocals. A druggy current does run through a few of these tunes, and Mike Brannon’s singing is far from detached, but the whole really benefits from hindsight; the guitars burn, the rhythm section never gets too busy, and the songs aren’t remodeling established classics. Garage sticklers take note. A-

Naked, Pink Quartz (Tenth Court) This intriguing Tasmanian band’s album came out early in the year but crossed my path only a couple of months ago and it’s taken me a bit of time to really grasp the range on display. Don’t let the title “Massive Cock” fool you; the opener is up to something other than braggadocio as Naked conjure thoughts of UK DIY movement with traces of The Fall, Swell Maps, and some of the edgier ‘80s Flying Nun acts. Indeed, the combination of electronic drum and bold emoting in “Massive Cock” had me thinking of Headless Chickens. This is an edition of 300, so don’t dawdle. A-

OST, Bedazzled (Trunk) I’ve no idea if young’uns have any recollection of Dudley Moore’s talents, but this reissue suggests perhaps; comedian, actor, pianist and composer, all four pertain to Bedazzled, which stars Moore as he co-wrote the soundtrack with frequent collaborator and co-star Peter Cook and additionally performed it with his group. Elsewhere, Moore’s trio has generally struck these ears as admirable but ultimately a bit straightforward; here, when augmenting one of the better examples of swinging ’60s-ism, the music nears the apex of his achievements. Taken alone it’s still a lot of fun. B+

Christine Ott, Only Silence Remains (Gizeh) Pretty swell sophomore effort from this French composer, multi-instrumentalist and noted virtuoso on the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument (similar to the Theremin) that’s she’s played as a member of Yann Tiersen’s band and as a collaborator with Radiohead, Tindersticks etc. Ott’s music is diverse enough that the best succinct description seems to be contemporary classical with avant-garde tendencies; there is a fair amount of fairly placid settings (particularly early), but “Tempête” gets wild as it recalls the “Kyrie” section of Ligeti’s Requiem. A-

Papier Tigre, The Screw (Function Records) The latest from a trio from Nantes France described as post-punk and avant-garde rock; both are certainly discernible, though not necessarily the stated precedents of Minutemen and This Heat, at least in terms of overt form moves (but inspirationally? Sure). Instead, the combo of heaviness and angularity is reminiscent of the post-post-post-hardcore stuff that surfaced in the USA around 10-20 years back. It’s not as grooving as El Guapo and less arithmetical than Faraquet or Don Caballero (plus, there are vocals), but there’s still a definite Dischord/Touch and Go angle. A-

George Sarah, “Min and Elsa” (Flat Field) Nifty electronic EP from a veteran on the scene. The lack of vocals underlines the seriousness of execution here; while described as dance-floor friendly (at least in comparison to his prior work), these three cuts are far from standard club fare. Side two’s lengthy “Forgotten Animals” will certainly get some bodies moving, but it’s also an attractively strange proposition, and is the disc’s strongest selection. The clinically precise prettiness of the title track and the more intense repetition of “Reverence and Unknowing” are also appealing. A-

Squirrel Nut Zippers, Hot (Mammoth) Kinda like the ‘90s exotica-lounge-space age bachelor pad-retro swing revival in general, this group was basically stranger than fiction, at least at the level of popularity attainted by this album. The very good debut tapped into a niche that was decidedly NPR/ Prairie Home Companion, but Hot sold 1.3 million freaking copies; it was an unpredictable decade, but shit. Somewhat amazingly, they never fell victim to bogue zoot suit trappings; specifically, they are better described as hot jazz (per the title) lubricated with some hokum and blues, and this one holds up very well. A-

Strange Relations, “Going Out” (Tiny Engines) Minneapolis trio delivering a four song follow-up to their debut album from last year (-CENTRISM), but in a display of range they come off as slightly schizophrenic. To elaborate, the dream-poppy “Ceremonies” notably sticks out next to the surrounding cuts, which are post-punky in nature and flaunt a Kim Gordon-ish angle on closer “Weeknites.” The same scenario is perceivable on the LP, but is less of a snag for obvious reasons; there are more songs to absorb. Still, while likeable enough they’ve yet to really excel at any of their chosen styles. B-

They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy, Far from the Silvery Light (Tofu Carnage) This Dallas-based classically trained duo lean toward contempo experimental metal without ever really settling into the genre. Sarah Ruth Alexander’s hammer dulcimer, harmonium, recorder, and bells combine with Gregg Prickett’s guitars, upright bass, cedar flute, and shakers to lay a very solid foundation, but it’s essentially her vocals, which at their abstract best are reminiscent of Shelley Hirsch, that help raise this to heights unusual for a debut; at a few points their experimental nature is more modestly successful. B+

Wipers, Rarities (Bang!) Don’t let the title suggest subpar obscurities and leftovers for diehards. To begin, Wipers stand as one of US punk’s absolute finest, in part because leader Greg Sage understood that song quality was an integral part of his attack; he’s one of the few punkers who could successfully scale it back to acoustic, and consistently inventive delivery for the genre brings these cuts home, wielding ample rawness (and urgency on the acoustic stuff) topped with savvy guitar playing, solos included. Worth it for the debut 7-inch and “Same Old Thing” alone, but there is so much more. A

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