Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, January 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: OST, Iris (Erased Tapes) Composer Dustin O’Halloran and Stars of the Lid member Adam Wiltzie are A Winged Victory for the Sullen, and their blend of modern classical, ambient, and drone gets its third full-length release via the soundtrack to the 2016 French thriller from director Jalil Lespert. While often tagged as cinematic, this is the duo’s first film score, with the music on prior album Atomos serving as accompaniment to a dance piece by choreographer Wayne McGregor. Iris taps into the above-listed styles and underlines the duo as a major exponent in contemporary post-rock. A-

REISSUE PICK: Pat Thomas & Ebo Taylor, Sweeter Than Honey, Calypso “Mahuno” And High Lifes Celebration (Presch Media GmbH) This reissues an excellent and pricey 1980 LP from a pair of Nigerian Highlife kingpins, Thomas the vocalist and Taylor the composer, arranger and lead guitarist. Those having scooped up Strut’s 3LP/ 2CD Thomas retrospective Coming Home will know this album’s “Ma Huno,” and it delivers Sweeter Than Honey its highpoint. But that’s no indictment of the quality found throughout this superb if succinct album, for in the truth in titling department, this baby rates high. A

Amas, Grill (Presch Media GmbH) Per PMG’s promo blurb, which quotes extensively from Peter Moore via the website African Revolutions, not only is Nigerian vocalist Gbubemi Amas smooth, articulate, cultured, and classy, he also possesses immaculate enunciation on this reish of a big-bucks 1981 boogie funk LP. Indeed, furthering the good-natured vibe is a cover of “Fire and Rain,” with Amas’ version closer to pop crooning than boogie or funk. Lacking the kick of Afro-rock or Highlife, this is solidly in the post-disco pop mold. Exuding hints of Talking Heads and Boz Scaggs, “Slow Down” is a highlight. B

Bash & Pop, Friday Night is Killing Me (Sire/Reprise) Tommy Stinson, with a lengthy cast of notables on hand, has a new record coming out this week under the revived Bash & Pop moniker. It’s titled Anything Could Happen, and I haven’t heard it. Hopefully, what happens will mark an improvement upon this formerly one and done group’s ’93 release, which is hitting vinyl for the first time on 1/24. To be fair, Stinson’s initial post-Replacements effort isn’t terrible; in fact, it’s a little better than the Mats’ final effort All Shook Down. Giving it a fresh spin, it persists as an okay but not terribly exciting listen. B

Black Anvil, As Was (Relapse) Reportedly one of the few black metal acts based in New York City, Black Anvil are now four albums deep, with all but their 2008 debut Time Insults the Mind on Relapse. That sort of label consistency frequently bodes well for overall quality, and so it is here. This is exactly the sort of LP to stoke the demonic fire of the genre’s sticklers the globe over, as it’s got the mauling guitars, the thudding rhythms, and the threatening croak-growl in spades, but there is a musicality to the 8-songs in 50-minutes that helps them to stand out. Familiar moves resist becoming mere tropes. A-

Club d’Elf, Live at Club Helsinki (Face Pelt) The core group here consists of Mike Rivard on bass and sintir and Dean Johnson on drums, with Brahim Fribgane on oud and Mister Rourke on turntables. Additionally, the rotating cast since their 1998 formation totals over 100; on this 2CD documentation of two 2012 shows not from Finland but Hudson, NY, the main guests are Duke Levine on guitar and John Medeski on Hammond B3, piano etc. Taking substantial influence from Moroccan music in service of the groove objective, the expansive sci-fi-funky jam band-avant-garde flow totals over two hours. A-

Dead Boys, Young, Loud & Snotty (Rhino) Stiv Bators, Cheetah Chrome and crew bailed on CLE for NYC and managed to cough out one of 1977’s finest punk long-players. Part of the reason comes down to Genya Ravan’s production; raw and true to its title, a decade later this classic was still commanding attention, “Sonic Reducer” being one of rock’s great opening songs, and it spoke to newbies in a manner many of the albums by their first-wave punk cohorts did not. In 2017 it remains a stellar mix of Stooge-channeling and Nuggets-update (see “Hey Little Girl”) with ties to Darby Crash and hardcore. A

The Dictators, Bloodbrothers (Rhino) These NYC trash-loving smartasses never topped their ’75 debut Go Girl Crazy, but on this ’78 slab they got back on track after the spotty Manifest Destiny. Over the years many have derided the Taters as essentially yuks-oriented ’70s hard rock, and while that assessment is certainly part of the equation, it ignores the occasional flare-ups of pop savvy in Andy Shernoff’s writing, which on this LP peaks with the magnificent “Stay with Me.” Handsome Dick Manitoba transitions into fulltime lead vocalist surprisingly well, and Springsteen even lends an uncredited hand. A-

Drunken Sufis, Pala Pala (Bad Friend) A Winged Victory for the Sullen extend from one side of the post-rock spectrum, and New York’s Drunken Sufis, while sharing a non-vocal orientation, burst forth from the other. The promo literature mentions Lightning Bolt, Deerhoof, Tortoise, and This Heat, while guests add sax and (notably by John Zorn alum Chris Cochrane) guitar. Delivering a boatload of precise racket (like a Thrill Jockey-Load Records co-release), if the prospect of mathematical angular spasms gets you moist in the warm places, then step right up to this one. On lathe cut vinyl, cassette, and digital. A-

Tom Glazer & Dottie Evans, Space Songs (Modern Harmonic) Fans of They Might Be Giants will recognize “Why Does the Sun Shine?” and “What is a Shooting Star?” As part of the Singing Science series, the 15 tracks in 32 minutes comprising this ’61 children’s educational LP are still quite musical, with folkie Glazer (who wrote “On Top of Spaghetti”) and pop singer Evans tackling the lyrics of Hy Zaret; the compositions are by Lou Singer as guitarist Tony Mottola leads the band. Landing firmly in the late ’50s-early ’60s mainstream without being especially kitschy, this is a pleasant reminder of a bygone age. B

Has a Shadow, Sorrow Tomorrow (Fuzz Club) Second album and Fuzz Club debut from this Guadalajara, MX-based two piece. Utilizing reverberating guitar, hovering keyboards, echo-laden vocals, and a steady, sturdy rhythmic approach, they inhabit one of the darker neighborhoods in the current garage-psych landscape; they’ve even been described as goth, but happily this lacks any overly-finessed moves. Across nine tracks Has a Shadow’s reality as a duo places the emphasis firmly on instrumentally-derived mood rather than frontman-inspired attitudinal shenanigans, though Daniel Garciano’s vocals don’t hurt. B+

Head Like a Kite, “No Two Walk Together (Instrumentals)” (Self Center) This EP, which has been given a limited vinyl edition with a cassette run scheduled for the spring, is portrayed as a departure for Head Like a Kite, as it delves into ambient/ soundtrack territory. The project of David Einmo, HLaK has been extant for ten years but is just now making my acquaintance, with this release recorded in Chicago with drummer/ producer Brian Deck. The opener dives headfirst into indie-flick chamber thickness, the second heightens a sense of horror-surrealism, and the finale spreads out into electronica. B+

Tim Held, Terminal Hymns (Self Center) Like HLaK, this set is available on limited vinyl with cassettes slated for later in the spring. Electronic musician-film composer Held, who is one of Self Center’s three owner-operators, has carved out a sound that combines aspects of progressive techno, ambient, glitch, industrial (both dance and non), darkwave, and even flashes of good ol’ post-punk (“Liar’s Lament” brought On-U Sound to mind). All of this is nicely amplified by an album cover triggering thoughts of a self-recorded and self-released LP by a basement-dwelling misanthrope circa 1983. What fun! B+

Holiday Crowd, S/T (Shelflife) This Toronto-based band’s Anglophilic nature is immediately perceptible but isn’t particularly surprising as two members, namely Alex Roberts and John Coman, hail from Great Britain (the latter from Ireland). What is striking is the group’s allegiance to guitar jangle as they hang out on the refined side of the indie pop field (think Orange Juice and The Smiths), with the group ultimately working up a fair amount of interactive heat; the bass is especially prominent in the mix. Folks who invariably end up disappointed by neo-indie pop stuff might want to investigate this one. B+

Jentsch Group Quartet, Fractured Pop (Fleur de Son) Most of this Brooklyn-based guitarist-composer’s recent attention has been focused upon large ensembles, with this four-piece double album-length (CD-only) set a direct outgrowth. The title could lead some to surmise a connection to noise, but instead Jentsch and his cohorts delve into a frequently contemplative ECM-ish fusion. The leader assesses the disc’s “Radio Silence” as “a combination of Giant Steps and “Whiter Shade of Pale”” and adds mention of Pink Floyd, and that’s cool. The Ornette-informed closer “Follow That Cab” is even cooler. B+

MJ Lallo, The Channeled Voice (Full Spectrum) This Oakland experimental label has been quietly amassing a diverse discography, with nearly all its physical output on cassette. This entry uncovers a self-released micro-edition from ‘88 by Cali voice artist Lallo, and it’s amongst the most intriguing in Full Spectrum’s catalog; found in a “dusty storage closet,” this is the best kind of reissue, containing sounds only a handful have had the opportunity to hear. The one sheet mentions Stereolab, and that’s discernible, but I’m also hearing Laurie Anderson and by extension downtown NYC but through a west coast prism. A-

Tim Maia, S/T (Vinilisssimo) Maia is a big name from Brazil’s musical heyday, but perhaps because he was neither part of the Tropicalia movement or one of the country’s major bossa nova hitters his subsequent global rep doesn’t seem to have blossomed as fully. On the other hand, he did land a comp on Luaka Bop. On this eponymous ’77 LP (one of ten S/T’s; take that Peter Gabriel) his personal style was unabashedly in soul-funk-pop mode with an inclination toward disco; numbers like “Sem Você,” which fruitfully blends Elton John and Isaac Hayes, enhance the high ratio of up-tempo grooves. B

Nirvana, Incesticide (Geffen) It’s the 25th anniversary for this comp, but it’s also been five years since it was first presented as a 45rpm 2LP, a debatable development in the cash-cow repressing impulse that becomes even more so when an album’s original halves flow as well as these do. Of course, as this record reinforces Nirvana’s strengths as a singles band, the four sides retain considerable power. Other aspects, such as a deft hand at covers, the melodic strength of numerous originals, and Grohl’s emergence on the scene, will shine through regardless of how the tracks are divvied up. A-

Blaine Todd, Golden Apples of the West (Full Spectrum) The second in this label’s pair of Winter 2017 releases begins in a freak-folkish/ Arthur Magazine place, a connection indubitably magnified by the titular takeoff from Golden Apples of the Sun (the 2004 Devendra Banhart-complied V/A CD on Arthur’s defunct Bastet imprint), but as this tape progresses the atmosphere gets gradually and appealingly more fucked. It still radiates like a homemade/ hand numbered item bought from the merch table at a free show held in the basement of an Ethiopian restaurant, and that’s mighty fine. A-

White Light Cemetery, Careful What You Wish For (Ripple) Second LP and first for a label that finds heavy-doom-stoner acts with the efficacy of a hog rooting out truffles. Extant for nearly a decade, this unit is cited as a prime example of Southern heaviness, and due to their Lafayette, LA locale, I was hoping for some swamp potency. However, they mostly conjure images of a bar. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in this case, the joint is smoky with pool tables and cheap draft beer. Problem is, it’s the ’90s, and the owner has just bought a CD jukebox so he can quit supplying live entertainment. What a dick. B

Wyldlife, Out on the Block (Wicked Cool) These New York City denizens nurture a style harkening back to their burg’s older, scuzzier days, but from my perspective proper NYC street rock should fly out of the speakers and make one wonder if there’s a little dust caked on the needle. This LP, the band’s third and first for Wicked Cool, is ultimately too hygienic and reliant on trite pop-punkish riff models to conjure the Bowery of yore. There are a few moments; e.g. the power poppy “Bandita,” but apart from the bratty strut of high point “Suburban Fever,” even their better moves connect as too studied. C+

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