Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, August 2016

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new or reissued wax presently in stores for August, 2016. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: The Dead C, Trouble (Ba Da Bing) Dating back to 1987, Kiwis Bruce Russell, Michael Morley, and Robbie Yates comprise one of the underground’s great treasures; that their current output still sounds this inspired and stimulating is a true source of amazement. Taking a sharp left turn at the fork where many of their Flying Nun peers veered toward conventionality, they specialized in “free-rock”; so it was then and so it remains. Maintaining a balance of inspiration and abstraction in rock music is rare, as even the best can fall victim to wank. Here, a creative streak for the ages continues. A    

REISSUE PICK: V/A, Venezuela 70: Cosmic Visions of a Latin American Earth: Venezuelan Experimental Rock in the 1970s (Soul Jazz) The title gets right to the point; this set isn’t likely to melt the synapses of experienced listeners as much as it will, through smart choices and sequencing, illuminate yet another layer of 20th century global sounds. Soul Jazz draws a comparison to contemporaneous German stuff, and that’s certainly on point, but much of this is equally reminiscent of Brazilian Tropicalia and US jazz-funk. Angel Rada’s gloriously antiquated synth excursion “Basheeba” nearly steals the show. A

-(16)-, Lifespan of a Moth (Relapse) These Los Angelinos are now seven albums deep into gruff-throated chunky-sludge. Against the odds, the attack remains effective, though bluntly, the faster the tempo (easily chalked up as a lingering facet of a stated hardcore influence) the less these ears are swayed; when they choose to dish out the copious riff bombast of “Gallows Humor” the album finds a sustained apex. There are a whole lot of vocals to contend with here, but to Cris Jerue’s credit he largely resists going overboard, which isn’t the same as fading into the background. B

Jon Bap, What Now? (Astro Nautico) Very impressive for a debut, as drum ‘n’ bass, hip-hop, ambient, jazz, spoken word and poetry, sound collage, and a high ratio of funk and soul get acquainted with an experimental approach. The presence of drummer Mike Mitchell gives parts of this a slightly jazzy avenue of accessibility (he plays in Stanley Clarke’s trio), but that’s only after the first couple tracks traverse shrewdly deceptive alleyways of minimalist sonic grafting and avant-poetics. As the record progresses elements of pop do emerge, but often in hunks and shards; it’s all quite intriguing. A-

Bareto, Impredecible (World Village) CD-only US reissue of this Peruvian group’s fifth album; as part of the highly regarded World Village roster it’s their first international release. What they lack in grit gets largely compensated for by depth and subtle, thankfully non-quirky eccentricity; blending tropical indie, judiciously applied electronica and cumbia, the roots cognizant results can be tastefully psychedelic as reggae rhythms and surf guitar emerge, the later even crossing over into Hawaiian territory during “Bombo baile.” Especially cool are the shades of ’70s AOR and Susana Baca’s vocals in “El Loco.” B+

Joe Bataan, Call My Name (Vampisoul) Repress of a very hep 2005 LP from this lynchpin of Latin Soul; between ’67 and ’72 he dished eight records for the Fania label. A big part of this album’s success lies in its origins not as a premeditated comeback album but rather as producer Daniel Collás simply looking for a vocalist to sing his song “Cycles of You”; just as important is an estimable crew of players including the TransLove Airways rhythm section, members of Grupo Latin Vibe, vocal outfit Middle Initials plus numerous Daptone-related folk. But the key is an engaged Bataan in fine voice. A-

Wyatt Blair, Point of No Return (Burger/Lolipop) One for the “well, why not” file; if roughly 8,000 retro synth-pop acts are currently clogging the public consciousness, then by all means make room for a one-man revival of the same decade’s flagrantly mersh blend of pop-rock bombast and unrestrained overproduction, with Loverboy as an appropriate baseline example. As a study in pure form this is almost admirable as Blair manages a few okay bubblegum moments (e.g. “Young Hearts Unite”) but having actually lived through this stuff on the first go-round I’ve no desire to do so again. C

Haley Bonar, Impossible Dream (GNDwire/Thirty Tigers) She’s been at it for roughly 15 years, but these lobes haven’t really paid her enough attention; this new one offers sturdy pop-rock with tangible links to her indie origins (she emerged in Minnesota as part of the Twin Cities scene), but with a surplus of straightforward moxie that’s potentially right up the alley of folks stumbling onto her via NPR. In this sense, she’s somewhat similar to Neko Case, though Bonar’s less alt-country-inclined (at least in this instance). Things get a little too elaborate on occasion (“Jealous Girls”), but mostly this is a winner. B+

Cal, Homegrown (Out-sider) AKA Cal Rock & Roll, the band of Larry “Cal” Calabrese, this reissues their private press LP from 1982. A thoroughly together sound adequately underscores a list of modest achievements; they opened for Mountain and briefly held the interest of Todd Rundgren as Calabrese landed on the Joe Franklin Show, but the biker-friendly guitar rock adorned with Hammond and analog synth only intermittently transcends a time capsule vibe. The moments that do lean toward glistening folk (“Today”), though a few rockers (“Couragous Cat [sic], “Movin’ on Down”) pass muster. B-

Earth Wind & Fire, (S/T) and The Need of Love (Rhino) It’s no secret that in the beginning this durable mainstream unit plied a more robust if still quite accessible approach to genre hybridization; some breathlessly rate these LPs as classics as others note the difference and then downgrade them as significantly lesser than Sly; this writer finds them admirable and reliably listenable but inconsistent, particularly the debut, which turns in a solid side two that’s unfortunately less than 12 minutes long. The Need of Love starts strong with the legit jazz-funk of “Energy” and is a less spotty affair overall. B/ B+

Grifters, One Sock Missing and Crappin’ You Negative (Fat Possum) While ’80s-’90s indie rock is often measured by its crossover successes, it seems just as important to soak up those who fortified the scene without making the “big time.” Memphis’ Grifters did end up on Sub Pop, so it’s not like they were plagued by a lack of recognition, but they also never scored a fluke hit while navigating a major label deal. Kinda refreshing. These two LPs, from ’93 and ’94, help to comprise the band’s output for the Shangri-La label; Crappin’ You Negative stands as the best of their loose and rough approach. B+/ A-

Hologram Teen, “Marsangst” b/w “Hex These Rules” (Happy Robots) Second single by Morgane Lhote, a name some will know as a former keyboardist for Stereolab, working here in solo mode. The descriptor “electronic motorik disco” certainly fits; there is a fair amount of positive energy as both sides are carefully constructed to go down very easy. Success in a social setting is destined, but as is the case with the debut, the potential of interweaved Italian dance floor impetus and Germanic rhythmic qualities feels only partially realized. It’s not bad, but Hologram Teen has yet to hit any stylistic peaks. B

The Judge, (S/T) (Ripple) Not to be confused with the ’80s NYC straight-edgers, the debut from this Granite City, IL four-piece has the knob turned way up as a pungent fatty gets the toke-and-pass treatment down by the river; it all sounds like it belongs on an 8-track cartridge. At their best during the numerous instrumental passages, this doesn’t leave vocalist Tyler Swope out in the cold as he contributes to the scenario through restraint, but the good uh, judgment unfortunately lapses during “Movin’ and Groovin’,” which sounds like Bad Company striving for a Boston-esque arena-pleaser. B

Lovesores, “Rock and Roll Animal” (Hound Gawd!) Four songs on a 10-inch from a Portland, OR bunch whose ’70s-style punk ‘n’ roll is basically devoid of fatness, strain, or an overabundance of attitude; this is doubly noteworthy given the visible age of this five piece, but then again singer Scott Drake was in The Humpers. The title track manages to elevate a potentially cliché-sodden scenario into a handsomely hard charging affair, and altogether this should please those with an undying allegiance to the Dolls, the Heartbreakers, and the Dictators. A-

MacArthur, (S/T) (Out-sider) This reissue of a microscopic private press from late ’70s Michigan has been out for a while, but it deserves mention even if the mixture of folk-rock, tasteful psych, and symphonic prog (via Mini-Moog) doesn’t necessarily stoke my fire. I initially expected a loner proposition, but instead it’s a fully operable and very ambitious four-piece based around the songwriting of Ben MacArthur and the prodigious multi-instrumentalism of Bill Heffelfinger. Nearly saving this is the transference of a style long tarred with excess to a four-track recording scenario. C+

The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure (Bar/None) Their name, taken from Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 Harper’s essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” underscores an atypical level of smarts for the pop-rock realm, as this superb DC outfit led by vocalist-songwriter Elizabeth Nelson and her guitarist husband Timothy Bracey definitely rocks up a storm. The hard-edged melodicism is elevated by constantly on target playing (featuring Bruce Bennett of The A-Bones) and Nelson’s cleanly enunciated words (plus phrasing that occasionally recalls David Gedge), and this is an utter treat. A-

Frankie Reyes, Boleros Valses y Más (Stones Throw) A rather curious record by Mr. Gabriel Reyes-Whittaker, who in addition to the moniker employed here records as Gifted & Blessed. Tackling the titular Latin styles solo on an Oberheim synthesizer wields an ambiance that’s halfway between old-school ice rink accompaniment and the sounds wafting from a music store showroom at the cusp of 1980. And I realize that probably doesn’t resonate as deep praise, but these dozen tunes totaling 30 minutes actually cohere into a whole that’s eccentric without trying too hard. B

Rhyton, Redshift (Thrill Jockey) Comprised of Dave Shuford on guitar and vocals, Jimy Seitang on bass, clavinet, and keyboards, and Rob Smith on drums, what once felt a bit like a supergroup sideline is now five albums deep; the collective instrumental prowess remains strong and their expansive tendencies are still detectable, but this makes significant inroads into classic rock territory complete with a reading of Joe Walsh’s “Turn to Stone.” And while Redshift is certainly recommended to Deadheads, it avoids faltering into flagrant jam-noodling and ends on a decidedly experimental note. B+

Dusty Springfield, Faithful (Real Gone Music) Once thought lost in a fire at a storage site, this was intended to be Springfield’s third album for Atlantic; two singles were issued in ’71, and after it was discovered that producer Jeff Barry had kept stereo copies of the sessions, most of the rest ended up as bonus cuts. That means Faithful, which has just received a vinyl edition (Real Gone Music’s CD came out last year), isn’t a revelation, but it is a fine dose of a sometimes underappreciated vocalist in something close to peak form. As great as Dusty in Memphis? No. But A Brand New Me? Perhaps. A-

Tyll, Sexphonie (Mental Experience) Reissue of a very obscure ’75 German LP blending psych, prog, and what the liners call “polit-rock” (there’s a connection to Eulenspygel, if that name rings any bells). Resisting easy categorization, the whole reclines under Krautrock’s vast umbrella but with hints of King Crimson and a definite ’60s hangover, so it’s far from a groundbreaking affair; with contributors rapidly assembled by Teflon Fonfara (who had some brief German fame in the ’90s), this was essentially crafted in studio and is pretty uneven overall. The experimental highpoints are cool, however. B

V/A, Money Maker (Studio One/Yep Roc) The second of Yep Roc’s Studio One reissues brings an extremely rare slab of Jamaican musical history into the realms of affordability; the good news is that it stands up as a very enjoyable listen, which given the personnel shouldn’t be a surprise. Along with the Studio One house bands, there is Jackie Mittoo, Ernest Ranglin, Im and David, Lloyd Williams, and even Coxsone Dodd, his vocal contribution to “Great Gu Gu Mu Ga” (as The Boss) a definite purchase perk. This mostly instrumental soul-inflected set won’t blow any minds, but it goes down nice and smooth. A-

Wireheads, Arrive Alive (Tenth Court) More post-punkish indie rock from Down Under via the label responsible for Naked’s Pink Quartz (they have current US distribution through Carrot Top). The band is composed of a whole gang of people, more than 20 in fact, and the album, Wireheads’ third, is an attractively loose organism reminiscent at times of the Mancunian ’80s with a touch of neo-psych in “Isabella Says.” Appealingly shambolic (Calvin Johnson recorded their prior album), the atmosphere is dark but with counterbalancing stabs of humor during “Dedication” and especially standout “Nero.” A-

Ziemba, Hope is Never (Lo & Behold) Very solid debut by Brooklyn-based singer-pianist René Kladzyk showing off nine original compositions and a very nice cover of Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s “Rapture” (from ’69’s classic Farewell Aldebaran). If that conjures up a progressive folk scenario, well there is some of that (closer “Where Without”), but she also displays a lot of range through engaging vocals, a firm grasp on advanced pop forms (“Hope is a Fold”), and clear command of up-tempo material (the very cool “El Paso”); all this and two members of Rhyton in the band. Could be a grower. A-

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