Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, March 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Molly Burch, Please Be Mine (Captured Tracks) This study in classic femme vocal pop form will probably leave “heard it all before” cynics unimpressed, but Burch and her band excel at skirting triteness; Patsy Cline is a clear and admitted influence, yet the tunes avoid twang and instead gravitate toward the Brill building and Spector. Furthermore, her background in collegiate jazz vocal studies insures a talented showing but with nary a supper-club cliché in sight. Largely cut in one day, Please Be Mine places Burch somewhere between Hope Sandoval and Britta Phillips, and it’s a treat. A-

Thelma, S/T (Tiny Engines) Beginning as the solo project of Natasha Jacobs, evolving circumstances resulted in the full band scenario of Thelma. It’s a maneuver helping to loosen the “confessional” tag too frequently slapped onto the records of female singer-songwriters. Don’t think this smartly economical seven-song debut lacks emotional heft, it just doesn’t get overtaken by it. Instead, Jacobs’ voice is pretty and playful without preciousness as the indie rock-ish instrumentation, often quite heavy, is productively enhanced with electronic elements. But it’s her writing that makes this one a winner. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Camera Obscura, “Teenager” and “Keep It Clean” (Elefant) 25th anniversary first-time vinyl reissues of two EPs from this long-running Scottish group’s classic sophomore full-length. At the time (’03), they were routinely lumped with Belle and Sebastian (not unfairly, as Stuart Murdoch produced their debut), but Underachievers upped the bite in their brand of twee indie pop; “Teenager,” “Keep It Clean,” and that EP’s “Suspended from Class” get to the heart of this development, while “A Sister’s Social Agony” hits a fruitful ’50s vibe. The bonuses cut mustard, especially “Amigo Mio.” A- / A-

Albert Ayler, Prophecy (ESP-Disk) Ayler’s regular appearances in this column relate to personal fondness exacerbated by memories of the once terrible difficulty in laying hands on this key avant-jazz figure’s records. As his work continues to pepper our ongoing vinyl resurgence, spreading the news feels essential; bluntly, Ayler rates as one of the 20th century’s sweetest musical iconoclasts. This is his trio, filled out with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, captured live in ’64 at NYC’s Cellar Café. Later included on CD with the mind-blowing Bells, this is a core piece of the puzzle. A-

A Tree Grows, S/T (Rufftone) Comparisons to Wayne Shorter, Miles, and Tortoise drew me to this debut. Opener “A Tree Grows” instilled excitement over what was to follow, but unfortunately, pop-fusionoid tendencies typified by “Out and About” lessen matters considerably. Sure, a main facet in Tortoise’s attack is ’70s fusion, but they fruitfully integrate it with post-rock and experimentation. A Tree Grows’ traveling of a similar course proves most fruitful here, though they ultimately sound little like the Chicagoans. Saxophonist Tivon Pennicott’s tone and delivery are plusses throughout. B-

A7PHA, S/T (Anticon) U-ground hip-hop from one of the style’s defining labels, and with a founder of the esteemed imprint as contributor. That’d be Doseone, who is joined here by rapper Mestizo. Wielding contrasting mic styles, it’s the latter’s relative directness looming in the foreground as Doseone’s production infuses the disc with an atmosphere, that in true experimental hip-hop tradition, combines strangeness with the enticing. Specifically, the sustained tension is tinged with recurrently retro-futuristic surrealism; “Modern Animal” blooms into appealing menace, and things roll from there. B+

Bobby Brown, Prayers of a One Man Band (Del Rio) 1,000 copy reissue of the third LP by this vessel of good but undeniably bizarro post-hippie vibes. Yes, a one-man band, off-kilter but competent and with homemade instruments to boot, the auteur factor attractively negating any possibility of exploitation. The facts: Bobby Frank Brown amassed a bunch of “straight” music scene fandom (Carl Wilson, Kenny Loggins, George Winston), was apparently the first guy allowed to play in Russia’s Red Square, and even performed in China. At times, he recalls Bongo Joe and Tony Joe White. Doodly womp-bomp. B+

Evan Caminiti, Toxic City Music (Dust Editions) This trim set, the third by Barn Owl member Caminiti via his own label, offers ten instrumental soundscapes likely to please fans of the industrial genre’s non-dance division. Indeed, per the title this oozes an urban feel, blending the synthetic and the organic, the commonplace and the mysterious, the clinical and the foreboding, eschewing sound collage for an environmental flow ripe with wrinkles and disruptions. Some will listen and hear randomness, but with attentiveness method does emerge. Not a knockout but consistently almost such. B+

Al Cohn, Cohn on the Saxophone (Modern Harmonic) Cohn is remembered today as one of the Four Brothers in Woody Herman’s Second Herd, playing alongside Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, and Serge Chaloff. He also teamed with Sims throughout the ’50s and beyond; they appear with Hank Mobley and John Coltrane on ’56’s Tenor Conclave. This date was cut the same year, corralling trombonist Frank Rehak with the pianist Hank Jones, bassist Milt Hinton, and drummer Osie Johnson. Peppering three Cohn tunes into a set of lesser known standards, this is a strong if not essential blowing session. B+

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, At Home with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (Cornbread) If one desires to make a case for Hawkins as something other than a momentary escapee from the early R&R madhouse, one need look no further than this, his 1958 debut, also released eponymously and after its most famous and greatest song. Herein Jay is jazzy, bluesy, poppy, religious, and even a little operatic; on “Hong Kong,” he’s also racist as shit. This clearly detracts, but so does the lack of R&B killers like “Yellow Coat.” No collection is complete without “I Put a Spell on You,” but please understand what this is. B

Glenn Jones, This is the Wind that Blows It Out (Thrill Jockey) First time on vinyl for Jones’ 2004 solo debut, originally issued by the Strange Attractors Audio House label and now finding a second home through his current label. While his mastery is no longer startling (as many brilliant players have emerged since), what remains is sustained beauty deepened with an undercurrent of discordance; in the years following Fahey’s passing, Jones’ only American Primitive peer was the late Jack Rose. Hopefully a vinyl press of Against Which the Sea Continually Beats is in the cards. A-

Jackie Mittoo, The Keyboard King (Radiation Roots) Mittoo’s role as organist in the Skatalites will endure as the artistic highpoint in a long, distinguished career (he passed in 1990), but he rarely coasted; many of his own LPs are of interest, like this reissue of a ’76 album originally on the Third World label. It’s difficult to deny the roller-rink/ minor league baseball park feel of some of Mittoo’s playing, but the way it meshes with the general dub weirdness and the occasional swells of archaic synths makes for a pleasurable if at times lightweight ride. I’ve heard better solo Mittoo, but this is in the upper echelon. B+

Alessandra Novaga, Fassbinder Wunderkammer (Setola di Maiale) Milan-based experimental improvising guitarist Novaga has worked with Lee Ranaldo and performed John Zorn’s Book of Heads cycle in full. Both connections place her in company inspired by a variety of artistic forms, with this set directly relating to New German Cinema pioneer Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Even as she references the themes of R.W.F.’s composer Peer Raben, this is still avant-garde enough to not be recommendable for all the director’s fans, but those into Derek Bailey might want to cozy up to this attractive edition of 300. B+

Augustus Pablo, At King Tubby’s (Radiation Roots) Not to be confused with the stone classic King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, this reissue of a 2005 compilation still sounds fine from its position in the backseat. Consisting of early ’70s recordings made in cahoots with legendary Jamaican producer Bunny Lee, this serves as a solid prelude to Pablo and Tubby’s eventual masterpiece. Here, the dubs are attractively bent if not yet at maximum warpage, but hovering around peak form is Pablo’s distinctive melodica. The packaging might insinuate a minor catalog item, but this is a durable listen. B+

Parlor Walls, Opposites (Northern Spy) Post-punk fortified with saxophone has long ago shaken-off the veneer of unusualness, with Parlor Walls being one of (at least) two such acts, alongside Pill, currently active in Brooklyn. Like Pill, the trio of guitarist-vocalist Alyse Lamb, drummer Chris Mulligan, and saxophonist Kate Mohanty holds similarities to No Wave, but Opposites easily transcends any retro art-noise business. Likewise, the use of sax eclipses the desire for garden-variety skronk, the instrument adding heft as part of the sonic whole as Mohanty is skillful throughout. B+

Jean-Jacques Perrey, Moog Indigo (Vanguard) Sometimes reduced to a chapter in the history of retro-kitsch as ironic cool (punning titles like this one don’t help), Perrey is a legitimately important figure at the crossroads of electronic innovation and pop, but he ranges wildly in quality; this is no exception. Included is an okay “Flight of the Bumblebee” and a “Country Rock Polka” nowhere as horrific as one might expect. “Hello Dolly” is worse. Elsewhere, intriguing and banal maneuvers alternate at a rapid clip. This is part of the appeal. I kinda dig the fuzz guitar and the Joe Meek-ish “Passport to the Future.” B

Red Baraat, Bhangra Pirates (Rhyme & Reason) Latest album and first on vinyl for these Brooklyn-based Bhangra bangers led by composer, dhol player, and award-winner Sunny Jain. Their rep as a party igniter is not exaggerated, with this set highlighting a massive groove machine across selections varied enough to sustain the party as the sheer intensity of the execution, particularly in the soloing, and the breadth of instrumentation, can border on the awe-inspiring. Not every cut completely succeeds, but fans of klezmer and New Orleans brass should take note. “Bhangale” features Delicate Steve. B+

Rotten Mind, S/T (Lövely) With a name conjuring thoughts of the cretin-like negativity that permeated the outskirts of the ’80s punk u-ground, the content of these Swede’s second full-length is much too driving and well-behaved to fit that description. Overall, the instrumentally sharp punkish rock is catchy without crossing over into full-blown pop territory, even during the anthemic finale “I Need to Know.” Instead of pop-punk, the chunky melodicism occasionally recalls aging punkers coming to terms with prior rock moves. Thankfully, this grower avoids some historical blunders. B+

Shadow Band, Wilderness of Love (Mexican Summer) Debut LP from a neo-psych group led by singer-songwriter-player Mike Bruno, a name some may recognize through the Black Magic Family Band. What little response this has received (that I’ve ran across, anyway) has been somewhat lukewarm, so here is some counterbalance; although unlikely to blow any minds, this is song-based but only moderately poppy (the Spaghetti Western-ish “Eagle Unseen” is an exception) and instrumentally broad psychedelia intermingling San Fran and UK modes and attractively perched to take off for bigger things. B+

Sleaford Mods, English Tapas (Rough Trade) This surprisingly durable and thoroughly UK duo pours Andrew Fearn’s DIY-derived simplicity into a dented pot on a budget stove and then reduces it to a tangy electronica-informed loop syrup. Post-punk rap-riddled rant machine Jason Williamson then proceeds to surf atop it with varying degrees of success, the fluctuation in quality key to the Mods’ appeal. Even after a smidge of refinement has seeped in they remain sturdy outsiders, and given recent foul political winds, their puncturing of Brit working class stereotypes feels increasingly necessary. B+

Superpitcher, The Golden Ravedays 1, 2 and 3 (Hippie Dance) Superpitcher, aka German techno guy Aksel Schaufler, has been active since the turn of the century; his latest is an epic 24-track album seeing issue as a dozen monthly installments available digitally and on 12-inch vinyl. Here’s the first fourth, and given the title (and the name of the label) it’s about as dancefloor oriented as one might expect, while standing up to sheer listening. I dig the hallucinatory Hawaiian moves and jazz sax of 2’s “What Do You Miss” the best, with the smooth propulsion of 3’s “Pocket Love” a close second. B+ / A- / A-

Trouble Kaze, June (Circum-Disc) Pianist Satoko Fujii, drummer Peter Orins, and trumpeters Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost represent the original lineup of Kaze, and with the addition of pianist Sophie Agnel and drummer Didier Lasserre they recorded this set last year. Kaze founder Orins says the collective creative engine for this five-part free-improv suite can be considered as either a triple duo or double trio; in the ambiguity lies Trouble. Starting out sparse and journeying into the abstract, rising energy brings some melody, sustained tension, and a lot of demonic duck calls late. A-

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