Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, September 2016

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Shield Patterns, Mirror Breathing (Gizeh) As the latest by this Manchester duo (and the first to make this writer’s acquaintance) plays, vocalist Claire Brentnall definitely brings Kate Bush to mind. That’s cool; even cooler is how she and Richard Knox rewardingly alter a trip hop-ish foundation, adding ambient/ ethereal elements and experimentation. Along the way the thud-echo of many of the drum beats insinuate they’ve been listening to Coil or something similar, the post-industrial quality also infusing the avant-jazzy standout “Balance & Scatter.” Julia Kent guests on cello. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Normally it’s not at all difficult to choose a pick from releases of roughly equal quality, but these two are so complementary that selecting one over the other just seemed wrong.

The Quick, Untold Rock Stories (Burger) This legendary LA band’s stuff finally on 2LP. The contents range from early Who/ Move motion (opener “No No Girl”) to raw glam-tinged power pop action (“Teachers Pet”) to a sprinkling of killer covers (The Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll,” The Beatles’ “It Won’t Be Long,” and a deeper glammy dip via “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”). Split between demos for Mercury and Elektra and wrapping up with bonus tracks exclusive to the vinyl (alt versions of “Poison Polly” and “My Purgatory Years”), the quality never lessens. “Pretty Please” is a standout. Get it before it’s gone. A

Dow Jones and the Industrials, Can’t Stand the Midwest: 1979-1981 (Family Vineyard) Those seeking insight into the widespread nature of the whole punk impulse need only soak up this deserving and lovingly deluxe compilation. From West Lafayette, IN, the herky-jerky, technology-infused personality will surely remind some of early Devo, but Dow Jones frequently rocked up a storm (for evidence, please check the title track) and possessed strong songs amongst the rawness, ranting, and alienated tension. This 2LP holds 29 tracks and comes bundled with a 7-inch and DVD of a complete 1980 show. A

The Album Leaf, Between Waves (Relapse) Jimmy LaValle has amassed a large discography, but this is the first LP since 2010; in the interim he’s been busy with soundtracks. Migrating from Sub Pop to Relapse positions this album, which comes in standard and deluxe editions, as something of an outlier amongst metallic happenings; as The Album Leaf’s electronic post-rock has its own established base of support this shouldn’t be an issue, with fans not likely to be disappointed. Between Waves thrives on group interaction, and the handful of Pet Shop Boys-esque vocal pop moments are very welcome. B+

Alsarah and the Nubatones, Manara (Wonderwheel) Sophomore album of what Sudanese-American vocalist, lyricist, and bandleader Alsarah describes as East African Retropop; along with her assured and engaging voice, the main ingredients are the oud and ngoni of Brandon Terzic and the rhythmic foundation of percussionist Rami El Aasser and bassist Mawuena Kodjovi, a core nicely accented with accordion, violin, keyboard, and on the title track, Kodjovi’s trumpet. Winningly contempo in nature, this compares well to the recent output on the Glitterbeat label; “3roos Elneel” is a standout. A-

Aquaserge, “Guerra EP” (Crammed Discs/ Almost Musique) Nifty four song taste of French experimental pop that should easily inspire newbies to investigate the back catalogue (this is their first for Crammed Discs) and be on the lookout for the group’s next LP scheduled for early 2017. Diversity, cohesiveness, and approachability insure success, and where European avant-styled pop-rock can sometimes be stern or humorless, Aquaserge are serious and musically sharp fun. I especially enjoy the hearty “make-believe cumbia” “Lez zousez” and the horn-infused warmth of “Les plus beaux jours.” A-

Asatta, Spiraling into Oblivion (Burnout) First album (after a pair of EPs) from this Milwaukee doom outfit. While they don’t break any speed limits, Asatta do explore forward momentum to a distinct advantage, setting themselves a bit apart from the molasses-like riff repetition of other acts on the scene. At a few points actual grooves arise herein, with the results heavy but non-toxic; Sean Anderson avoids overzealous spillage at the mic and the band never devolves into mere thud-motion. Mood remains important as they stretch out and enhance the whole with cello and Theremin. B+

The Cannanes, A Love Affair with Nature (Chapter Music) Reissue of a very fine LP by a somewhat underappreciated (and still very much extant) Aussie outfit. Coming off a bit like their countrymen The Go-Betweens (both Able-era and later) combined with the shambling strum and achy chamber sides of indie pop (of which they were a prime non-UK exponent), some folks eventually tagged them as an exotic specimen of the “love rock”/ K Records variety. Initially released in 1989, this was a highly sought after disc by fans of that scene; its fresh availability with 13 download bonuses is truly swell. A-

Peter Case, S/T (Omnivore) As part of The Nerves and The Plimsouls, Case is a cornerstone of US power pop, but roughly a decade later his 1986 solo debut landed smackdab in standard singer-songwriter territory. Co-produced by T-Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom with a few high-profile guest performers, e.g. Roger McGuinn and Van Dyke Parks, this is an initially underwhelming listen, even on revisits (the ’80s production is a partial culprit), but it eventually proves a grower due to Case’s songs, Parks’ string arrangement on “Small Town Spree,” and a cover of Shane McGowan’s “Pair of Brown Eyes.” B+

Albert Collins, Ice Pickin’ (Alligator) 180gm repress of the record that reenergized this Texan guitar master’s career. A proper grasp of the man’s art requires conversance with his material for TCF Hall and Imperial, but this LP, which basically came out of nowhere in 1978, is rightfully considered his masterpiece, a powerful statement Collins was never able to repeat. Never a great singer, the difference here is his self-comfort with adequacy. The topics and lyrics transcend cliché, the band is solid and not too sophisto (horns kept in check), and the guitar is on point. A mandatory blues purchase. A

Crystalaugur, Terranaut (Out-Sider) Per the notes: “perhaps the ultimate student record,” which means it was made by teens (Americans in Singapore, no less) as a school project ditching the garage for a pop-prog-ish concept album; competently played (with definite traces of age-related tentativeness) and crudely but effectively recorded (the drumming often sounds like someone whacking on a sheet of aluminum siding), unlike some of its influences this is never dull. In fact, it’s frequently fascinating; a few of the guitar lines are sub-Velvety, but the insinuation of proto-punk is otherwise exaggerated. B+

Cypress Hill, S/T (Get On Down) Due to the preponderance of guitar samples, this slab bears partial responsibility for the ’90s rock-hip hop merger; ‘twas theoretically a peanut butter and chocolate combo that ended up nearer to off-brand margarine on a stale rice cake, but no matter, for Cypress Hill is one of rap’s greatest debuts, with only a couple slightly lesser tracks keeping it from top-tier. Their smoked-out and stressed-out vibe, achieved largely by DJ Muggs and B-Real (Sen Dog an effective second banana) was distinct from anything the genre had produced up to 1991; the intensity has diminished not at all. A

Entrance, “Promises” (Thrill Jockey) Guy Blakeslee emerged as Entrance around 2003; by the end of the decade he’d adjusted the name to The Entrance Band, and earlier this year he issued the enjoyable The Middle Sister under his own name for the Leaving label. Now he’s back to his initial moniker but with adjustments in approach. Previously known for exploring overlapping psychedelic, bluesy, and rocking modes, for these four songs he’s turned toward a folk direction, with nice baroque bookends on the opening title track and an emotional thrust throughout that could please fans of Oberst. B+

The Ettes, Shake the Dust (Fond Object) 10th anniversary vinyl reissue of the swell garage rocking debut from this NYC to Los Angeles to Nashville trio. Featuring the vocal sass and gnawing fuzz guitar of Lindsay “Coco” Hames, The Ettes were ultimately too punk for any retro tag as their uncommonly well-developed songwriting validated mentions of such major entities as Blondie and The Ramones. Registering as a more garage-inclined affair, Shake the Dust isn’t as strong as either of those band’s classic first albums, but it has held up very well; the download comes with two worthy bonus cuts. A-

Iron Claw, S/T (Rockadrome) Although this Scottish unit never managed a proper album while originally extant (they’ve since reformed), this repressing of an ’09 CD/’14 2LP collects material cut from ’70-’74; the whole radiates a tangible Sabbath inclination, especially as much of the singing seems to be echoing from inside a dark chamber. Budding doom-sludge-stoner fans will definitely find this one up their alley, so anybody having picked up Relapse’s Pentagram reissues that’s thirsting for more should cruise right up; if derivative, Iron Claw was consistently inspired and highly competent. B+

Kool Keith, Feature Magnetic (Mello Music Group) Guest spots are a long tradition in hip hop, but sometimes the tactic gets stretched a little thin. Per the title, with one exception Kool Keith’s latest features a guest on every track, but here the maneuver largely works, mainly because the participants’ styles range widely; highlights include Sadat X and MF Doom, but even the lesser numbers, of which there are a few, go down easy. Keith is still his eccentric and occasionally brazen self; having started in the mid-’80s with Ultramagnetic MCs, it’s remarkable he’s still making music this good. B+

James Leg, Blood on the Keys (Alive! Naturalsound) Third solo album from one half of Black Diamond Heavies; prior to that Leg was in The Immortal Lee County Killers, and the levels of guitar distortion, raw throat, and mighty drum thump across this very solid ride make it abundantly clear he hasn’t forsaken those blues-punk roots. Folks specializing in this sort of unsubtle stuff often flounder when attempting to bring it down and widen the emotional range, but this LP could’ve actually benefited from a little more keyboard-imbued ache a la standout “I’ll Take It.” The intermittent fiddle is also nice. B+

Terra Lightfoot, Every Time My Mind Runs Wild (Sonic Unyon) This has been kicking around for a while, but its US release was just last month, and the more I listen the more I like; the Ontario-based Lightfoot self-describes as a roots rocker, which isn’t off-target, and the sheer bigness of her voice puts her in the tradition of fellow Canadian Neko Case. A distinguishing characteristic is her terrific playing on a Gibson SG, and if rootsy she generally eschews twang for vibrant pop-rock hitting a high plateau through strength of songwriting. I adore the nod to The Flamingos in “Emerald Eyes.” A-

Harold Lopez-Nussa, El Viaje (Mack Avenue) Without question, Cuban pianist Lopez-Nussa is an absolute ace, and frankly his playing on the 88s is the best part of this very polished disc. There is unfortunately far too much vocalizing going on here, though I admit to generally harboring disdain for singing in the jazz realm; it can be especially toxic on a commercially-minded Latin-jazz affair such as this. There are also a few too many talent-flexing stylistic detours; it seems almost perverse to ask for another piano trio record given the thousands already in existence, but that’s what I like to hear from Lopez-Nussa. B-

Paul Martin, It Happened (Out-sider) This reissues the eponymous Distortions Records’ LP from ’98 (with a previously unreleased track) and retitles it after the a-side to Martin’s debut ’66 single; alongside a follow-up 45 he left a fair amount of material in the can, and that’s what’s collected here. In a nutshell, Martin’s biggest talent was songwriting, and with the help of producer-musician Frank Owens he cozied up to a range of styles including but not limited to tough garage, folk-rock, echo-laden psych, and a surprising amount of baroque pop. Ultimately, the grab-bag is a mixed one, but it has appeal. B

Kid Millions, 100 Disciplines (Thrill Jockey) This percussion based piece by the Oneida drummer and Man Forever leader has been given a physical release of 100 cassettes. Fitting but miniscule, it’s already listed as out of stock through Thrill Jockey’s website, so if this is of interest don’t delay in scooping it up. Featuring rumbles, whacks, drones, minimalist cyclical patterns (parts are reminiscent of Glenn Kotche, who like Kid has collaborated with Sō Percussion), huge sheets of sound and wordless vocals, this is borderline excellent overall, and would seem likely to eventually get a repress. A-

The Moms, “Snowbird” (Bar/None) This one threw me for a loop, but sadly not the good kind, differing so drastically from my expectations that I rechecked to see if Bar/None was actually the issuing label; definitely not Hoboken pop, this is still Jersey (New Brunswick), with the melodic punk tight as a drum and highly anthemic as driven home by the piled-on vocals. Undeniably accomplished, the songs are destined to incite a club full of sweaty, swaying, and soused bodies, but as the songs fly by they register as energetic but calculated and lacking in danger; not my bag, but Epitaph fans might dig. C+

Oh Well, Goodbye, “Swoon” (Bleeding Gold) 4-song 7-inch from a Liverpool-based quartet serving as the first entry in a release trilogy (part two, a 5-song cassette, is out next month, and a digital-only remix EP follows in November); the moody vocals (Philip Rourke) guitar (Rourke and Peter Seddon) bass (Sam Banks) and drums (Andy Fernihough) occasionally brought to mind Movement-era New Order interspersed with shoegaze elements, particularly on “This City to Yours,” which spreads out nicely as the disc spins at 33rpm. Easily strong enough to wet the whistle for the next two installments. B+

Lee “Scratch” Perry, Must Be Free (Megawave) Like Kool Keith, Perry continuing to make worthwhile music this late in his career is near astounding. However, it’s important to note this is merely an adequate example of the man’s abilities; certainly not recommended as an intro to the dub reggae titan, enough of interest happens that youngsters stumbling upon it might be inspired to seek out the top-tier stuff. The main problems here are length (nearly one hour) and a few too many stabs at contempo relevance. More than for completists, though it’s kinda doubtful any Perry completists actually exist. B

Poster Children, Daisychain Reaction (Lotuspool) Released by Twin/Tone in 1991, a year later this LP got swooped up by Sire/ Reprise in the US and Creation in the UK, but even as some may recall the soft-to-loud mania of album single “If You See Kay” (there was a video), Poster Children never really broke out; they just kept at and soon returned to the independent scene. Many will detect a similarity to Smashing Pumpkins (whom Poster Children influenced), but as engineered by Steve Albini the emotions get plunged into a brawnier mix. This holds up very well, and has three extra tracks on the download. A-

Pepe Sánchez y Su Rock Band, Regresion (Pharaway Sounds) This ’76 Spanish set combines flamenco and home country folklore with elements that were then fairly novel, e.g. lots of distorted electric guitar amid a frequently groove-laden fusion-ish proposition. This largely resists overwrought horn section vamping, with a sizable percentage of expressive soloing occurring on soprano sax, trumpet, guitar, and by Sánchez on the drums. These scenarios almost always present mixed results; funk mavens will fidget at the less energetic spots. Me? Too much flute. Also features a pair of so-so disco-tinged bonuses. B-

The Shaggs, Philosophy of the World (Light in the Attic) In a manner similar to the films of director Edward D. Wood Jr., the Wiggin sisters’ debut album gradually acquired a dedicated cult; many others were left scratching their heads over the perceived ineptitude of it all, but time has underlined that Betty, Dot, and Helen weren’t incompetent but rather just strikingly different. Time has also illuminated father Austin’s extremely demanding nature, which adds a dark undertone to a story once dominated by offbeat wholesomeness; worry not, innocence still wins out. Excellent liner notes by Lenny Kaye. A

Television, Adventure (4 Men with Beards) This obviously suffers in comparison to Marquee Moon, but so does 99.9% of everything else. Once upon a time, when this was a cheap used bin score, I remember liking more than most, and with refreshed ears my esteem hasn’t really diminished. I am struck by the ways it differs from its predecessor; instead of bursting out of the gate, things proceed rather modestly at first, hitting an early high-point with “Foxhole.” It’s on the second side, which commences with the exquisite “The Fire,” that brings this underrated slab to the brink of classic status. A-

Christopher Tignor, Along a Vanishing Plane (Western Vinyl) Tignor’s résumé is impressive; he’s been in bands (Slow Six, Wires Under Tension), worked live sound at CBGB’s, assisted La Monte Young, arranged strings for Meshell Ndegeocello, built software for Google. For this album he strenuously avoids backing tracks, click tracks, and live looping while utilizing a kick drum, a violin, natural percussion, and software that allows him to sidestep overdubs. Described by the artist as electronic, the categorization is certainly apparent, but just as often a welcome and acoustically rich aura of chamber classical arises. A-

Luke Winslow-King, I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always (Bloodshot) The year before his last album, 2014’s Everlasting Arms, Winslow-King got married. He’s now divorced, and this record is very much concerned with how he got from there to here. Sometimes labeled as a blues guitarist, and given this album’s potent reading of “Louisiana Blues” that tag is likely to stick, Winslow-King is better described as a contemporary extension of the long tradition of Louisiana roots; overall, this LP is more brightly produced than I generally prefer, but in this case it offsets the darkness of the subject matter. A-

Witchskull, The Vast Electric Dark (Ripple) The vinyl edition of this Aussie metallic doom trio’s debut came out earlier this year on STB Records and is apparently already sold out. Now Ripple has stepped in with the CD and digital, so those who missed the boat can at least hear the thing. Mixing Sabbath, Motörhead, and aspects of the NWOBHM, Witchskull manage the trickier task of speedier tempos better than most and maintain an appealingly sludgy atmosphere throughout; The riffs are big, the occasionally Dio-esque vocals are mixed low (a smart strategy), and the rhythm section brings the thunder. B+

Jesse Colin Young, Song for Juli (Audio Fidelity) Alongside his work in The Youngbloods, this ’73 LP remains Young’s highest profile achievement. A steady seller at the time (although never rising above #51, it remained on the album chart for over a year), if intermittently too polite, it’s aged pretty well, and is certainly preferable to the majority of contempo mainstream Americana; the rural hippie country-rock is enhanced with a similar cognizance of music history nicely reinforcing Young’s folkie background. The use of horns has drawn comparisons to Van Morrison; that’s fair but shouldn’t be overstated. B+

Zuntata: Taito Sound Team, Arcade Classics Vol. 1 (Ship to Shore PhonoCo.) “Classics” is maybe a little strong, but this collection of arcade video game accompaniment is very much of interest. Largely tinnier and more brittle than the vast majority of song-oriented synth-based sounds from around its period of origin (’89 to ’94), the need to soundtrack movement and activity results in a lively, sometimes hyper, and occasionally funky ride. Taito was the manufacturer and Zuntata a part of their sound team; the games sourced are Night Striker, Metal Black, and Elevator Action Returns. A cool curiosity. B+

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