Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, January 2018, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for January, 2018. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Jeff Snyder, Sunspots (Carrier) Composer, improviser, instrument-designer, holder of a Music Composition doctorate from Columbia, and Director of Electronic Music at Princeton, Snyder has worked in a variety of groups, and after numerous appearances on comps this is his debut album, offered on 2LP in a gatefold sleeve and as a digital DL in both stereo and quadrophonic versions. Using a 1970s Buchla synth controlled by his Snyderphonics JD-1 keyboard/sequencer, the four side-long 18-minute pieces recall the heyday of avant-garde electronic music, but without the bleep-and-bloop that sometimes dates those perfectly fine records. Instead, there’s a congruence to later experimental electronic stuff, so fans of Pan Sonic, Matmos, and Merzbow should investigate. A major work. A

Belle Adair, Tuscumbia (Single Lock) The second album from this Florence, AL four-piece was recorded at their hometown FAME studios, but don’t go jumping to any conclusions regarding their sound. Instead of working in a style that’s tangibly Southern, they dish out a strain of guitar pop that’s less geographically situated. Sure, Belle Adair’s influences include Big Star, who are assuredly in the Southern USA’s musical Hall of Greats, but the list also features Teenage Fanclub. Produced by Tom Schick, Tuscumbia fruitfully delves into a strum-glide zone instead of dishing riffy power-pop action, with the songs, singing (which occasionally brings The Clientele to mind), and playing strong throughout. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Bert Jansch, A Man I’d Rather Be (Part 1) (Earth) Recently, the work of this Brit-folk cornerstone has been relatively easy to obtain (it wasn’t always that way), but for interested parties who have yet to scoop up a few of his albums, this, Earth’s first installment in the corralling of his prime early discs (Part 2 arrives next month) is a gift destined to give decades of pleasure. Jansch has influenced hordes of aspiring fingerpickers, more than a handful of them notable, and his work has aged hardly a bit. This 4LP casebound box set (also available on CD) collects his self-titled debut and It Don’t Bother Me (both ’65) and Jack Orion and his collab with future Pentangle bandmate John Renbourn Bert and John (both ’66). Don’t think for a sec that you don’t need this stuff in your life. A+

Robbie Basho, Live in Forli, Italy 1982 (ESP-Disk/Obsolete Recordings) Along with John Fahey and Leo Kottke, Basho comprises the big three original American Primitive guitarists. Due in part to his death from a stroke in 1986 (he was just 45), his discography is smaller than his counterparts, but much of it is downright gorgeous, and this ’82 show adds to the luster. There is some overlap with the Bonn Ist Supreme CD, which captured a 1980 German performance, but that won’t stop heavy-duty fans (who were likely already familiar with this show as an incomplete download) from picking it up. The selections span from ’66’s The Grail and the Lotus to ’81’s Rainbow Thunder: Songs of the American West; yes, he does sing, but to these ears, that’s not a problem. CD available 1/26, vinyl 2/23. A-

Beechwood, Songs from the Land of Nod (Alive Naturalsound) This NYC trio (guitarist-vocalist Gordon Lawrence, drummer-vocalist Isa Tineo, and bassist Sid Simons) has apparently stirred up a ruckus in live performance, with the Gotham fuzz getting called and arrests made, and the scarf-worthy glam-psych-punk on display here fits the promo email’s description of the group as “an anti-social petty thief, a male hustler, and a delinquent runaway” quite well. But the songs here, a few of which are strong enough to initially strike the ear as covers, plus a solid umpteenth version of “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (that enhances a mild KBD vibe), translate well from the safety of my couch. This came out on tape last year through Burger, but here’s the vinyl, and the CD has a bonus track. A-

Enterprise, S/T (1977) & S/T (1978) (Adarce) These two LPs of orchestral disco are the brainchild of Spanish keyboardist, composer, engineer and producer Josep Llobell Oliver, originally released on the Belter label, from whence many of the selections on the compilation ¡Naino! Spanish Gipsy Soul Funk Disco 1974 / 1984 (reviewed below) derive. Amongst the contents are interpretations of The Beatles, Barry White, Chicago, Chick Corea, and (ugh!) Zager and Evans, and the large budget Oliver was given is easy to discern, but ultimately, it only adds up to a big hunk of cheese (there’s a flute-driven version of Supertramp’s “Give a Little Bit,” I am shitting you not). Mostly instrumental with an emphasis on lushness over rhythmic heat, this misses my bag by a country mile. C-/ C-

Étant Donnés with Michael Gira, Offenbarung und Untergang by Georg Trakl (Munster) This was originally released on CD in 1999, and is based on a 1914 text (title translation: Revelation and Demise) by Austrian expressionist poet Trakl, who was also a pharmacist on the front during WWI. The horrors of war plummeted Trakl into drug addiction, and in late 1914 he committed suicide by cocaine overdose in the military hospital in Krakow. French experimental/ industrial duo Étant Donnés (brothers Eric and Marc Hurtado) create the music (with input from Mark Cunningham of Mars and Saba Komossa of Delkom) as head Swan Gira reads (and sings) the text in German. It’s as somber as you’d expect, but constructed with obvious care, with the darkness of Trakl’s writing effectively expressed. A-

Jeffrey Gaines, Alright (Omnivore) Gaines has had a long career in mainstream pop-rock (to some, he’s probably best known for his cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”), and this CD continues in that vein, though the first couple tracks establish a session-ace-aided country-pop sound that goes down quite easy. But as the songs unwind, matters take a distinct turn toward the pop-rock mode of Mr. Elvis Costello. A large part of the reason comes down to Gaines’ voice, with the similarity achieved without the strain of imitation, but there’s also a keyboard that recalls the Attractions, and as the intensity raises, so does my interest, and so does the volume. Really, only one of the songs doesn’t cut mustard, and if mainstream, this is still an engaging, tidy set that seems well-suited for driving. B+

I Marc 4, Nelson Psychout: Original Italian Library Music from the Vaults of Nelson Records (Vampisoul) Library music has its ups and downs, but this collection, the second volume in Vampisoul’s Psychout series, which documents what the promo sheet calls the New Italian Library Sound, is solid. The first installment was Flipper Psychout, which dove into the library catalog of Italy’s Flipper Music; this one covers the work of the Nelson label, and specifically the quartet I Marc 4, whose output spread across some 20 albums from 1970 to 1980, in addition to collabs with soundtrack masters like Armando Trovajoli. The sound they honed is surprisingly cohesive and not a bit cornball, which given their guitar fuzz and non-toxic Hammond organ-loaded psych-rock leanings, is no small feat. B+

Math and Physics Club, Lived Here Before (Fika Recordings) Here’s the fourth full-length by this Pacific-Northwest band, formed by vocalist Charles Bert and guitarist James Werle, with Ethan Jones on bass, Kevin Emerson on drums, and Saundrah Humphrey on violin. The group first emerged on the international indie pop scene roughly 13 years ago, and these 11 tracks supplement their catalog without a hitch. Folks smitten with the jangle at the core of C86 and the output of Sarah Records will likely be chuffed, and the songs here are so well-conceived that comparisons to the Go-Betweens or Robert Scott’s work in The Bats are right on the money. But hey, if these comparisons leave you stumped, it’s a safe bet that if you dig The Shins and/or Luna, you’ll like this, too. A-

The Prefab Messiahs, Psychsploitation Today (Lolipop / Burger) This band’s history stretches back to the early ’80s Worcester, MA (or “Wormtown”) scene, and I’ll confess to knowing little about ‘em, which isn’t a surprise, as other than an ’83 cassette, they released nothing at the time. However, I do know (of) Bobb Trimble, who produced some of the stuff found on Devolver, a later anthology of material from the same era, but don’t think of Psychsploitation Today in terms of Trimble’s outsider vibe; no, the Messiahs deliver straight-up fuzzed-out garage rocking, and do so rather well. There’s been some comparisons to the Bay Area’s Castle Face crew, e.g. The Oh Sees, Ty Segall, and White Fence, but their weird edge and refreshingly serious lyrical focus hits my garage spot a little differently, and that’s cool. B+

Schlammpeitziger, Damenbartblick auf Pregnant Hill (Bureau B) German electronic musician Jo Zimmerman adopted the Schlammpeitziger pseudonym (‘tis Deutsch for the weatherfish) eleven albums back. I’ll ‘fess that the prior ten have escaped me, but based on the quality of this one, I’m tempted to explore the catalog. Described as a cheap Casio synth specialist on his early stuff, Zimmerman has clearly developed since, though a budgetary aura does persist across these eight selections, and yet the whole is potent enough to sidestep any and all rinky-dink clubhouses. Many of the cuts are instrumental, but those with words are humorous, including what’s apparently a recurring topic, namely flatulence. Impressively, “Angerrestbay” gets funky without going south. B+

The Senior Service, “Slingshot” b/w “Find and Seek” (Damaged Goods) Back in 2016, I dug the full-length debut by this veteran Medway instrumental act (its members have previously played in The Prisoners, Thee Mighty Caesars, and The Masonics, amongst others). Dug it, but was far from blown away by it, as The Girl in the Glass Case blended a love of John Barry and Morricone with Booker T and the Small Faces. Cool influences to be sure, but the undisguised retro flavor could only climb so far in my personal esteem. Well, this new 45 makes it a little higher, basically because the short form is well suited to their thing. Of course, it helps that the A-side resonates like Dick Dale hanging with Joe Meek, and the flip utilizes a cool Mancini rip. Altogether, it bodes well for their upcoming album. B+

Television Personalities, Beautiful Despair (Fire) Cut in 1990 by founder and sole constant TVPer Daniel Treacy in the flat of frequent collaborator Jowe Head (he of Swell Maps, etc.), with the former singing and strumming and the latter doing everything else, this fits between Privilege and Closer to God (which featured a few of these tunes reworked) in the TVP discography. It’s impossible to deny that lost records by prolific acts are often just gussied up gifts awarded to the hardcore fanbase, but this is no mere bone thrown to the frothing fervent. This is a stripped-down treat just burgeoning with engaging songs, and it’s sure to stoke both long lovers of Traecy’s work and folks who just got into him through Fire’s TVP reissues last year. That means step right up or forever hold your peace. A-

V/A, ¡Naino! Spanish Gipsy Soul Funk Disco 1974 / 1984 (Adarce) When the genres of soul, funk and disco are spotted together on a record sleeve, one never knows what one is going to get. Too often, the result is a bunch of sub-mediocre dance junk, but not here. Yes, even with the unique Spanish Gipsy spin, a whole lot of this launches from a mainstream base, but whenever things threaten to become too mersh, there’s a cool twist. In fact, a few gems are sprinkled in, including Paca Y Manuela’s synth-infused “Dimelo,” the hyperactive verbal spillage (described in the informative booklet as Funk Rap) and snorts (!) of Lola Flores’ “Cómo me las maravillaría yo,” Morena Y Clara’s appealingly hefty pop-funk-rock merger “Para vivir así,” and Marian Conde’s handclap-fueled opener “Tómame que tómame.” B+

Ben Vaughn, Instrumental Stylings (Bar/None) Multi-instrumentalist Vaughn, aptly described as a quirky musical historian and wide-ranging genre enthusiast, first came to prominence in the ’80s through a pair of cool albums by his eponymous Combo. After going solo in ’88 with Ben Vaughn Blows Your Mind, he landed on Bar/None in ’92 with the terrific covers album Mono USA and then followed it up with this set, indeed all instrumental (with one exception, a bonus cut featuring vocals by Dean Ween), which has been retrospectively assessed as the calling card for his Hollywood scoring career. The contents are highly varied stylistically, though Vaughn’s obvious affection for the forms he tackles, and his astute navigation of the retro zone, make the experience consistently enjoyable if ultimately non-startling. B+

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