Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, November 2016

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Wayne Hancock, Slingin’ Rhythm (Bloodshot) Specializing in ’40s-’50s honky-tonk, rockabilly and post-Bob Wills country bop, Hancock’s been dishing it out for over two decades; his latest solidifies the unlikelihood he’ll ever modernize his style, and that’s good news all around. Unashamedly throwback, the depth of feeling, lack of playacting, and utter love for bygone genres keeps him out of the mere retro pile. As usual, a few wildcards are pulled from his sleeve, e.g. the rich gospel of “Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine” and a sweet reading of the Merle Travis nugget “Divorce Me C.O.D.” A

REISSUE PICK: V/A, Cologne Curiosities: The Unknown Krautrock Underground 1972-1976 (Mental Experience) An intriguing reissue from one of the multiple subsidiaries of the Spanish label Guerssen, the consumer hook comes in form of a question: “the Nuggets of Krautrock?” Opener “Interstellar Shortwave” by The Astral Army gets off to an underwhelming start, but thereafter the program expands rather nicely. The story here relates to lathe cut LPs from a “label” called Pyramid that were art objects rather than store-bought items, and if not in the league of Nuggets it’s surely good listening. A-

Hamish Anderson, Trouble (Kobalt/AWAL) From Melbourne and currently residing in LA, this is Anderson’s debut studio LP after a couple of EPs and live album. Noted for his guitar prowess, he’s undoubtedly got chops, but the accolade ultimately isn’t about flash. Instead it relates to his bluesy approach; citing Albert, B.B. and Freddie King as influences, the trifecta underscores a decidedly pro-like sophistication. Roping in over a half-dozen session heavies, the songwriting here is impressive and the results likeable a la Petty or the Black Crowes, but I’ll confess to needing a higher ratio of grit. B

Arrowhead, Desert Cult Ritual (Ripple) Stoner stuff from Down Under, specifically Sydney, that has its Sabbath-isms in check, largely keeps the vocal wail of Brett Pearl from going overboard in the mix (he also plays guitar), and retains a proper balance of heaviness to riff motion, with drummer Matt Cramp and bassist Arron Fletcher forming a powerful rhythm section. There’s also plenty of psych-tinged pedal-stomping going on, which assists in keeping the pot-permeated grooves from getting monochromatic, man. A few more stinky behemoths like “Weed Lord” would take these guys right over the top. B+

Tredici Bacci, Amore Per Tutti (NNA Tapes) Simon Hanes’ influences range from soundtracks to big band to exotica to Broadway stuff infused with an aura of the New York-ish New, and this debut LP puts a gaggle of guest vocalists (JG Thirlwell, Ruth Garbus, Jennifer Charles, Ryan Power) in front of a classically trained crew as Hanes adopts the persona “Luxardo” in his role as arranger, composer, conductor, and guitarist. Edgy yet approachable, I’m reminded a bit of Zorn and Mike Patton’s soundtrack stuff and even Hal Wilner in a not-bad way. Classique post-modern on the cusp of great things. B+

Daniel Bachman, S/T (Three Lobed) Bachman’s securely established as one of the finest American Primitive-descended guitarists currently on the scene, but the sustained and occasionally startling beauty of this LP elevates his rank even more. While the occasionally raw drones of the two “Brightleaf Blues” selections assist him in standing out from the more straight-ahead contemporary fingerpickers, it’s also clear these differentiating factors aren’t calculated stabs by Bachman. Instead, like Glenn Jones, Jack Rose, James Blackshaw, and the original Am-Prim crew he possesses natural stylistic breadth. A+

James Chance & the Contortions, The Flesh is Weak (True Groove) The man and his band first hit the scene with a throttling of James Brown’s “I Can’t Stand Myself.” This new album, which succeeds against substantial odds and sports a cover shot of Chance in a gold lamé blazer once owned and worn by Liberace, includes “That’s Life” and “I Who Have Nothing” as popularized by Sinatra and Tom Jones respectively. The sax skronk and raw throat are still very much intact, but Chance makes this LP worth the trouble by updating his approach and tempering but not expunging his surly temperament. B+

Jonny Couch, “Animal Instinct” (Damaged Sofa) Like recent releases by Wyatt Blair, Fatal Jamz, and to a lesser extent Ablebody, Couch’s 5-song EP luxuriates in a highly deliberate ’80s milieu, although he manages a higher ratio of success than those acts, mainly through songs that survive, and in a few instances, benefit from the period trappings rather than simply serving as vessels in the exaltation of cliché. The three up-tempo numbers flaunt a power-pop vibe, the slower title-track is modestly pleasurable pop new wave, and Couch’s lyrics are consistently interesting and almost never annoying. B

Domkraft, The End of Electricity (Magnetic Eye) I’ve read descriptions of this Swede three-piece as essentially a psych-noise combo, and while that’s not inaccurate, it important to qualify them as solidly metallic with a penchant for doom. Ultimately, they’re as heavy as a burlap sack full of bowling balls and entertain a fondness for spreading out; opener “The Rift” nearly makes it to ten minutes and following track “Meltdown of the Orb” bypasses eight. Considered as part of the metal continuum, Domkraft is surely as attentive to nuance as flat-out pound, and I’m excited to check out their prior EP. A-

Heroes of Toolik, Like Night (Self-released) Second CD by this NYC-area smart-pop/ avant-garde sorta-supergroup featuring Branca alumnus Arad Evans, Band of Susan Robert Poss, Modern Lover Ernie Brooks, and Television’s Billy Ficca. Opener “Perfect” nods to ‘80s Hoboken as trombone and violin lend atypical threads to the fabric, and as the art-pop unwinds there are gestures toward Lou Reed and Richard Thompson. “Warm” initially magnifies the core group’s background in Rhys Chatham/ Arthur Russell before taking a turn for Brit-folk; violinist Jennifer Coates navigates both sides seamlessly. B+

Hoover, S/T (BCore Disc) Part of Dischord’s most productive decade alongside Fugazi, Lungfish, Nation of Ulysses, Slant 6, and more, Hoover join Circus Lupus in the underrated column, but for the sake of accuracy this 5-song EP, recorded in ’98 by a reconvened lineup and given deserving reissue here, was on the DC-based Slowdime label. Inhabiting the Slint-y side of the post-HC landscape, the raspy shouting (interestingly, by three members) seems to draw inspiration from another undersung Dischord act in Ignition and points toward Faraquet and the again overlooked Medications. Limited to 500 copies. A-

Konami Kukeiha Club, Lagrange Point (Ship to Shore PhonoCo.) Aaron Hamel and Justin A. Martell started Ship to Shore in 2013, and have focused so far on movie scores, Tiny Tim, MX-80 Sound, and video game soundtracks, of which this LP is an example. Described as “the high technical watermark in Famicom/NES chiptune music,” this seems to translate to Lagrange Point not being immediately identifiable as game accompaniment. It does exude an ’80s library music atmosphere (though Lagrange Point dates to ’91); like the label’s Zuntata LP, this is unexpectedly appealing. B+

L’Orange & Mr. Lif, The Life & Death of Scenery (Mello Music Group/ Adult Swim) Succinct at 22 minutes, which fruitfully offsets the ambition of the concept. This is dystopian hip-hop, its cited antecedents Bradbury, Orwell, and Huxley; four tidy clips narrated by The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac are interspersed with seven longer tracks. Less eccentric than the space-weirdness side of Kool Keith, this is still appealingly off-center at times, mainly due to sample loop construction, e.g. “Strange Technology” and “Five Lies About the World Outside.” Welcome scratching by DJ Q-Bert during “The Scribe.” B+

Paul Marcano and LightDreams, 10,001 Dreams (Got Kinda Lost) Deriving from another of Guerssen’s numerous sub-labels, this reissues the 1982 private cassette-only release from a British Columbian psych-prog outfit. In the liners, Jack D. Fleischer posits prior LP Islands in Space as the “perfect distillation of Paul’s musical essence,” but I haven’t heard it; this long follow-up (edited down from 90 minutes for 2LP/ CD reissue) integrates pop song structure into the expansiveness. ’82 was pretty late for what’s offered here, but if traces of private press residue remain, this is far from outsider stuff. B+

The Milkshakes, Talking ‘bout Milkshakes, After School Special, Thee Knights of Trashe, and Revenge! Trash from the Vaults (Damaged Goods) Newbies guessing what these four LPs (or two CDs) hold based upon guitarist-vocalist-renaissance man Billy Childish’s later work in Thee Mighty Caesars and Thee Headcoats are in for a surprise. Teaming up with guitarist-vocalist Micky Hampshire, bassist Russ Wilkins (later John Agnew), and drummer Bruce Brand, this is as close to pure ’60s grandeur as Childish ever got; Brit beat, Link Wray, fuzz, surf, and even occasional saxophone. It’s all glorious stuff. A-/ A/ A-/ A-

Nopes, Never Heard of It (Magnetic Eye) Tagged “fringe punk,” this East Bay unit is weird rather than orthodox as their debut LP dishes it out gnarly and raw; a comparison to noise-rock doth spring to mind. Speeding by like a locomotive hijacked by beefed-up urchins enhances the punk angle, but there’s nothing sloppy about ‘em; it might seem as if the Nopes are standing on the verge of flailing into a tailspin, but it’s an effect achieved through precision. Some fine guitar dynamics are on hand and to these ears finale “Ditches” connects like prime Hüsker Dü recording for ’91 Amphetamine Reptile. A-

Oh Boland, Spilt Milk (Volar) Cool hard-edged garage pop trio out of Taum, Galway Ireland; with a pair of digital EPs and a split cassette with Me and My Dog under their belt, this appears to be their vinyl debut. Kicking up enough racket to satisfy Castle Face and Goner fans as the high quality, riffy songs secured them a shared bill with the esteemed Paul Collins, this lacks standouts but maintains a solid level of quality throughout. The EPs were produced by So Cow’s Brian Kelly, so those digging Lisa Marie Airplane Tour might want to investigate. Spilt Milk was produced by the Ginnels’ Mark Chester, so like ditto. B+

The Olympians, S/T (Daptone) Swank concept album from key Daptone figure Tony Pazner tells the story of the Greek gods through 11 instrumentals. The funky vibe by an all-star assemblage is definitely a la ’70s mode, but the atmosphere ditches cliché; urges for flute have been largely suppressed (“Saturn” is a cool exception) as the use of harp (and to a lesser extent harpsichord) brings this a distinct and celestially fitting feel, a bit like later Dorothy Ashby jamming with The Budos Band in a contemplative mood, though “Europa and the Bull” has a little Timmy Thomas action amid the rich horns. Killer. A-

Ross Perkins, S/T (Sofaburn) Much of the chatter swirling around this debut relates to its sustained psych-pop atmosphere, a quality that’s pretty much undeniable, but it’s the singer-songwriter angle making the deepest impression on these ears. Perkins has been at it for a while, so the namedrops of Emitt Rhodes, Nilsson, and Magical Mystery Tour, while overblown aren’t egregious. Not in any of those leagues, it is impressive that he played, engineered, and mixed everything on this album himself; the whole is appropriately weighty but hindered by spots that’re too calculatedly druggy. B

The Pop Group, Honeymoon on Mars (Freaks R Us) Reuniting with Dennis Bovell, who produced this foundational post-punk unit’s debut way back when, and additionally roping in Hank Shocklee from the Bomb Squad (of Public Enemy fame) to helm the boards for a few tracks were smart ideas. The results are more inspired than most Citizen Zombie, and are at times downright weirder, e.g. the whacked dub of “Days Like These,” but overall the landscape is uneven compared to their prior effort, the biggest disappointment being “Pure Ones.” On the plus side, Stewart is as incensed as ever. B+

Pretenders, Alone (BMG) Martin Chambers absence isn’t a problem, because let’s face it, it’s 2016 and Christie Hynde is the Pretenders, y’know? But Alone? Even as a fair number of nice moments emerge as the album unfolds, producer Dan Auerbach’s input is occasionally less than thrilling. Frankly, the Black Key’s guiding hand gets so heavy at times that it almost feels like he should get co-billing. It’s clear that Hynde was pleased with the results however, and since she’s in strong, engaged voice throughout, I won’t carp too much. It’s also nice to hear Duane Eddy on “Never Be Together.” B

The Shacks, S/T EP (Big Crown) Opening their debut with the Ray Davies-penned “This Strange Effect” is an unlikely and inspired choice. Their treatment of the tune, with vocalist Shannon Wise getting all kinds of breathy as the music delineates a ’60s-’90s techno-retro attack, makes clear guitarist-songwriter Max Shrager and Wise are marching to the beat of their own drum. Big Crown is largely a neo-soul label, but The Shacks are up to something different; bohemian café yé-yé with a hint of indie pop, The Cardigans blended with Pram, shades of the sunshine ’60s, some reggae with the Frightnrs, a little Mazzy Star… A-

Skinny Girl Diet, Heavy Flow (HHBTM) If asked for a brief description of this London three-piece before spinning this LP, their first after a handful of EPs and such, I would’ve likely crowed “post-Riot Grrl.” Although Heavy Flow undeniably hones the band’s take-no-shit attitude (scope out the cover photo for evidence), their attack is tangibly grungy. The trite route would be to compare them to 7 Year Bitch or Babes in Toyland, but at times they wield guitar textures unlike either, and at a few points achieve the raw abandon of early Nirvana. The screams can’t help but remind these ears of prime Bikini Kill. A-

V/A, Boogie Breakdown: South African Synth Disco 1980-1984 (Cultures of Soul) Akin to the prior disco-related volumes from this label, this set holds indisputable historical import that guarantees a baseline of interest. However, after the springy keyboard funk of Harari’s “Party” delivers an early peak, the sequence gradually declines and levels off at least until Benjamin Ball’s reggae-infused “Flash a Flashlight” (which is also available as a 12-inch maxi-single) provides an upswing in the latter portion. Cannibals and the vocally exuberant Al Etto do add quality, but overall this is a modest success. B

The Dean Ween Group, The Deaner Album (ATO) Been a while since I spent time with the work of ol’ Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo. The bentness of Ween consistently played-off older, straighter sounds, but the DWG occasionally engage with classic rock (e.g. instrumental tracks “Dickey Betts” and “Gerry”) in a manner lacking bizarro-antagonism while fruitfully flaunting the Deaner’s guitar prowess; they should easily inspire enthusiastic responses at field concerts the globe over. His playing also elevates the sometimes Zappa-esque jokey numbers, though “Gum” is a truly strange beast. B+

Year of the Cobra, In the Shadows Below (STB) The cover art features a pair of formidable fantasy-paperback looking creatures plus an all-business dude garbed in chain-mail with lightning emanating from the palm of his hand. Wicked shit. Additionally, the song titles mention wizards, unicorns, temples, and warriors; although drummer Jon Barrysmith and bassist-vocalist Amy Tung-Barrysmith are fittingly doomy, the lack of guitar and more so no guttural growl are welcome switches. The songwriting is also nicely varied, with the anthemic up-tempo chug-punker “Temple of Apollo” a highlight. B+

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