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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Skull Defekts, S/T (Thrill Jockey) I’ll admit that I first got into The Skull Defekts due to the connection with Daniel Higgs, who’d been the singer and poetic fount for Baltimore’s Lungfish, a band I long loved, and who’d joined the Swedish band well after their formation. But in soaking up their pre-Higgs discography, the appeal widened, with The Skull Defekts’ work serving up another fine example of Swede u-ground rock (with connections to Anti Cimix, Cortex, Union Carbide Productions, and Kid Commando), and it continues here with Higgs’ departure and Mariam Wallentin stepping in. In a reflective explanatory piece written by member Joachim Nordwall, he observes that this is probably their most composed album, and I don’t disagree. But it’s still a superb finale. A-

Renata Zeiguer, Old Ghost (Northern Spy/Double Denim) Although this is vocalist, pianist, and violinist Zeiguer’s first full-length, she doesn’t lack experience; there was her self-released “Horizons” EP from back in 2013, and she’s spent time in the interim performing as Cantina and contributing to numerous projects, including Ava Luna, Twin Sister, Cassandra Jenkins, and Christopher Burke of Beach Fossils. But it goes back farther than that; influenced as a child by classical music and a little later by the Great American Songbook, there is a florid quality to much of her material that when combined with her vocal strengths, solidifies the mention of Kate Bush. But her love of The Beatles and tropicalia also shines through (adding welcome touches of strangeness0, and I dig the indie rock toughness throughout. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems (Craft) This set includes a bunch of pertinent material: there’s a booklet with writing by Beat expert Ann Charters and poet Anne Waldman, a repro of the invite to the poetry reading of ’56 held at City Lights bookstore, a photo of the man at his typewriter, and a reprint of the City Lights Pocket Poets edition of the work that impacted so many lives and challenged so many norms. It’s all certainly appropriate regarding the poetry’s import and looks cool as hell, but the main attraction is a translucent red vinyl repress of the Fantasy Records LP from ’59. Hearing “Howl” read by its creator still delivers a major charge, stripping away time’s extraneous bullshit and getting to its protest core. Before braying it’s no longer relevant, just take a look around. A+

Langley Schools Music Project, Innocence & Despair (Bar/None) When this collection of ’70s Canadian elementary schoolers doing pop-rock tunes under the aegis of a cool music teacher emerged in back in 2001, it was a bit of a sensation, and deservedly so, as it delivered an extended dose of youthful goodness that seems impossible to resist; over the years I’ve witnessed it unrankle more than a few curmudgeons, and if you need a taste of human decency to offset the drag-me-downs of existence, it’s a surefire remedy. Putting the kibosh on any twee tendencies and resonating emotionally in a way that music created for children almost always doesn’t, to swipe from Tosches, it’s really the school assembly that transcendeth all knowing. And “The Long and Winding Road” gets me every time. A

6 String Drag, High Hat (Schoolkids) The second album by this early alt-country outfit, reissued a little ahead of their new one (due March 9). Formed in Clemson, SC by Kenny Roby and Rob Keller (initially as the Welfare Liners), in short order they moved a state north to Raleigh, and connected with Steve Earle, who produced and released High Hat on his E-Squared label (though this is its debut on vinyl). These days, the term Americana seems to have overtaken alt-country as a descriptor, but this change in nomenclature doesn’t really fit what 6 String Drag does, as they lean toward gutsy R&R ala Springsteen and even Elvis Costello. The Dixieland-ish “Over & Over” and the more overly country-tinged material lends diversity to this worthy effort. B+

Aksak Maboul, Un peu de l’âme des bandits (Crammed Discs) Like this Belgian outfit’s 1977 debut (Onze Danses Pour Combattre la Migraine, reissued back in 2016), this 1980 follow-up is an essential component in the story of the Euro Rock in Opposition movement; tangibly wilder than their first effort, it should please anyone with an overlapping interest in non-crap prog, out jazz, avant-classical, and the possibilities of punk, and the opening Bo Diddley-inspired mayhem of “Modern Lesson” encapsulates it all. Had Rough Trade released as a single, it would be celebrated today, though as group co-founder Marc Hollander started Crammed Discs to put out this LP, it not like the music’s reputation is chopped liver. But this is its first-time reissue on vinyl, accompanied with a bonus CD of unreleased stuff. A-

Broadway Lafayette, Subway Zydeco (Hound Gawd!) It’s Mick Collins (Gories/ Dirtbombs) on vocals, Matt Verta-Ray (Speedball Baby/ Heavy Trash) on guitar and bass, and his wife Rocio Verta-Ray on organ and piano, and the stated intent here is to do zydeco right. To help insure success they’ve corralled Xavier Bray, Robin Arthur Girod, and Cyril Yeterian, better known as the Geneva Switzerland-based Cajun combo Mama Rosin. Collins might be the ringleader, but he often takes a backseat, as everybody sings, including lots of Cajun French. The cuts with Collins at the mic generally have a stronger R&B/ blues foundation that contrasts with the album’s more straight-ahead stuff; as zydeco can often be done wrong (too slick, too safe) I kinda prefer the latter, but everything comes together quite nicely. B+

Dedekind Cut, Tahoe (Kranky) Electronic producer Fred Welton Warmsley III, formerly known as Lee Bannon, now records as Dedekind Cut (pronounced “dead-da-ken cut”), and if ambient music is your bag, you’ll want to investigate his recent stuff. Warmsley emerged as a hip-hop beat maker, most notably in connection with the Pro Era collective, but what’s he’s been up to more recently can be tagged as post-Industrial, a development reflected in the switch in moniker and heard on his debut as Dedekind Cut, 2016’s $uccessor (there is also a bunch of EPs). The first few tracks of Tahoe are markedly closer to a post-New Age template, but with “MMXIX,” Warmsley begins cozying up to a more experimental electronic mode, though without subverting the atmosphere. Relaxing? You betcha. B+

The Femme Equation, Enigmatical (Lab259) First album from the solo project of Swedish pop artist and songwriter Lina Westin, who some may know from Caviare Days, the band she formed with her sister and fronted in Brooklyn. However, I didn’t know her stuff, so Westin’s answers to the press sheet’s questionnaire proved helpful. She lists her favorite music as exotica and ‘60s world psychedelia, and elsewhere describes this set as “transcendental pop.” As I listened, these elements made an impact, especially the pop angle, which is decidedly diva-like, an aspect driven home by her cited inspiration of Nina Simone as a style icon and further heightened by the record’s cover art. Overall, Enigmatical is larger-scaled than I normally like, but tunes like “Spin Around” are hard to resist. So, I didn’t. B+

Güero, My Way My Rules (You and Your Hippie Friends) This fledgling and excellently named label is the handiwork of Rebolledo, who alongside Aksel Schaufler (aka Superpitcher), comprises the Pachanga Boys, a noted techno outfit and founders of the Kompakt-distributed Hippie Dance imprint; although the photo of a guitar and organ in a desert that adorns this, YAYHF’s inaugural full-length, might suggest certain possibilities, Güero (formerly El Güero Fresa on the label’s first release, the comp 12-inch “A Very Nice Combinado Volume Uno”) serves up assorted strains of funky techno. This is not to suggest that the pictured instruments aren’t present; to the contrary, the occasional use of the guitar here is sweet, but overall, the admirable objective is to establish an electronically interesting zone for body movement. B+

Justin Hinds, Travel with Love & Know Jah Better (Omnivore) The Nighthawk label’s resuscitation continues with Justin Hinds. Backed by the Dominoes, he first hit in the ska and rocksteady eras through Duke Reid’s Treasure Isle label. Not until after Reid’s death did he get a full-length out through the auspices of Sonia Pottinger; next came two LPs for Island. Unhappy with the Kingston “rat race,” Hinds simply returned home to Steertown, where he was eventually coxed by Nighthawk into making Travel with Love in ’84. Cut at Tuff Gong with the Dominoes and the Wailers backing, it’s sweet of lead voice, rich with harmony, and instrumentally strong. Loaded with bonuses, it’s the one to get if you only get one. Cut later sans Dominoes, the lesser Know Jah Better has a decidedly more contempo sheen. A-/ B

Kaze, Atody Man (Circum-Disc/Libra) For Satoko Fujii, 2017 was a tremendous musical year, and this CD makes clear she has no intention of slowing down. What’s reinforced even more is the power of Kaze as a leaderless quartet, and one offering the underheard instrumentation of piano (Fujii), drums (Peter Orins), and two trumpets (Natsuki Tamura and Christian Provost). Recorded last summer in the Warehouse Studio at New Haven, CT’s Firehouse 12, the sound of Kaze is suitably avant-garde, with the extended techniques of the trumpeters occasionally bringing fellow blowers Nate Wooley and Peter Evans (and of course Wadada Leo Smith and Bill Dixon) to mind, but just as impressive is how they can recall ’70s Euro free improv and deliver big doses of jazzy lyricism. An altogether delightful listen. A

Robb Kunkel, Abyss (Future Days) Kunkel’s sole ’73 effort was originally issued by the short-lived Colorado-based Tumbleweed Records; the title track and “Turn of the Century” are found on Light in the Attic’s comp spotlight Sing It High, Sing It Low: Tumbleweed Records 1971-1973 from last year. I was ultimately more interested in the label’s story than the tunes on that disc, and it’s sorta the same way here (Abyss comes out in a hand numbered edition of 600 via LITA’s ’60s-’70s focused subsidiary), as the notes portray Kunkel’s life as a colorful one. Along with lots of traveling, there was record label A&R, a later connection with writer T.C. Boyle, and even a self-published collection of short stories. His music is introspective singer-songwriter stuff broadened with soft-rock and jazzy elements. B

The Lovely Eggs, This is Eggland (Egg Records) Along with a pair of EPs and a shit-ton of 7-inches and comp appearances, this is the fifth LP for this Lancaster, UK psych-pop-garage duo. Consisting of husband and wife David Blackwell and Holly Ross, The Lovely Eggs have also been tagged as lo-fi, but if the descriptor once applied, it seems to be far less pertinent now. Instead, their raw, punky approach (Ross formerly sang for the all-female riot-grrl-ish band Angelica) is full-bodied and big—it makes sense that prior records have appeared on the HHBTM and Too Pure labels, though they’ve been handing their own business for a while now. Often concise, except when they stretch out (e.g. “Let Me Observe”) the punk energy is still high (see the foulmouthed “Dickhead” and the standout “Witchcraft”). B+

OST, Lady Bird (Fire Soundtracks – Lakeshore) Like a lot of people, I liked Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut just fine. However, when the prospect arose to check out the film’s soundtrack, I realized I hardly recalled anything about it. I’m not talking about that Dave Matthews song (because who could forget that), but Jon Brion’s score. But if I didn’t remember it, that doesn’t mean I didn’t absorb it while watching, natch. Interestingly, after spinning this OST a few times, the expectation that my memory of the film would flood back to me didn’t really happen (though attention to the track titles as scene markers helped). What Brion’s music does is conjure the modestly scaled emotionally resonant spirit of Gerwig’s film exceptionally well, which is a bit more impressive than just writing catchy themes. A-

Stunted, Fault (Drwg Music) Stunted is the side project of San Franciscan Alex Petralia, who’s main gig is high quality noisy punkers The Nopes, and this is the promising first release from a new Bristol/ Cardiff-UK-based label. Available on CD and cassette, the contents here tackle the seven deadly sins one track at a time. Punk aggro is still quite strong, with opener “Displays [Pride]” loaded with the partially submerged vocal echo redolent of late ’80s noise rock, but there is also a fair amount of stretching out; the promo text quotes Petralia’s stated interest in cultivating a vibe of Industrial darkness, which works well with the biblical theme, but that he didn’t want the pendulum to swing to far away from pummeling rock. Cresting with the scorch, scrape, and thud of “Slug [Sloth]” I’d say he’s succeeded. B+

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