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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Astrid Sonne, Human Lines (Escho) Based in Copenhagen, Sonne has a classical background and a budding interest in electronic composition. This is her debut, and its quality is in some way explained by her experience in creating site-specific compositions for installations. Human Lines has been described as an attempt to balance mechanical and organic musical elements, and I’d say she’s pulled it off without a hitch. Well-tagged as abstract, Sonne’s work has range; a few spots, like the beginning of “Real,” register as highly caffeinated versions of the stuff heard on early avant-garde electronic albums, though most of the duration is tied to more recent techno developments. A striking exception is closer “Alta,” which is a string piece hovering between drone and modernist classical. A-

Grand Veymont, Route du vertige (Objet Disque) Grand Veymont is the French duo of Béatrice Morel Journel and Josselin Varengo, who after playing separately in a bunch of other outfits decided to team up in formation of a concept they call “salon de Krautrock.” More specifically, on their second release (after a 2016 EP) they offer four long to longer tracks that should hit lovers of Broadcast and Stereolab right in the sweet spot. It should especially tickle those who dug it when Stereolab really stretched out. However, Route du vertige isn’t so easily summarized, as the final track’s 14 minutes begin with a Brit-folky flute fest. Once the drugs kick in, they head into a Doors-like zone, though it’s reflected through the lens of the Paisley Underground, and with lots of French femme vocals. I love it. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Laughing Hyenas, Merry Go Round & You Can’t Pray a Lie (Third Man) It’s useful to keep in mind that the ’80s US rock underground was more than the acts featured in Our Band Could Be Your Life. Much more. Like many of the subjects in Michael Azerrad’s book, Ann Arbor, MI’s Laughing Hyenas’ roots are in hardcore; raw throat behemoth John Brannon was the voice of Negative Approach, while guitarist Larissa Strickland played in L-Seven (not L7), a post-punk unit that hovered on the fringes of the Midwest HC scene. Third Man will be reissuing the Hyenas entire output on LP, beginning here with the ’95 expansion of their ’87 EP and it’s ’89 follow-up. The sound is industrial strength punk blues, owing much to The Stooges and especially The Birthday Party. Recorded by Butch Vig, it still slays. B+/ A-

Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway (Rough Trade) The first album by Mark Kozelek’s band post Red House Painters, released by Jetset in 2003, though the original limited 2LP, the sequencing of which Rough Trade’s set duplicates, was issued simultaneously by Cameron Crowe’s Vinyl Films. In ’07 Kozelek put out a 2CD on his Caldo Verde label, but this repress (designated as “one time only”) should please fans who want the wax but can’t or won’t drop hundreds of bones for an original. Musically, it’s a fine listen, essentially picking up where the Painters left off (RHP drummer Anthony Koutsos is in the lineup), and with a strong batch of songs (all by Kozelek) with a partial focus on pugilists; one of those, the extended “Duk Koo Kim” (spreading across side three) spotlights the band and is a standout. A-

Barren Womb, Old Money / New Lows (Spartan) Trondheim, Norway’s Barren Womb are a duo, but kinda refreshingly, they don’t do the power blooze thing. Instead, Timo Silvola & Tony Gonzalez specialize in heavy rock that fits snuggly into the tradition of their self-designated influences, namely Amphetamine Reptile and Dischord. For older listeners, that might seem a somewhat curious combo, but think Tar and Circus Lupus, perhaps. The pair also describe their first full-length in almost three years as offering a newfound pop angle, but as time is of the essence, I’m gonna take their word for it. The hooks amongst the heaviness are most palpable in closer “Russian Handkerchief,” and there’s a recurring political bent. The vocals sometimes remind me of Rollins circa Life Time. B+

Broads, Field Theory (Humm) Combining synth-pop, ambient drone, post-rock and shoegaze, Norfolk, UK-based Broads are delivering their fourth album (and it appears to be their debut on vinyl, in a slim-ass edition of 200). In a positive twist, the synth-poppy turns have an arty rather than retro-commercial edge, and I really dig how it combines with violin and cello in “Climbs” (which features vocals by the track’s co-writer Milly Hirst); not far behind is the electro-guitar combo of “Habitats,” a succinct cut that’ll possibly remind you of a certain ’80s Manchester band, but not too much. Plus, like the rest of Field Theory save “Climbs,” it’s instrumental, and I like that. As the disc progresses, it starts to branch out, and I like that, too. “Let Me Take It from Here” could be what they call a floor-filler. B+

The Choir, Artifact: The Unreleased Album (Omnivore) Cleveland’s The Choir are known for “It’s Cold Outside,” a classic included on Pebbles Vol. 2 and the Nuggets box. Power-pop nuts are also likely hip to ¾ths of the Raspberries figuring in The Choir’s revolving door lineup (the booklet’s family tree is potentially headache inducing), and so this Feb ’69 session by the reformed outfit has some moderate crossover appeal. Four of the ten tracks (nine originals, plus a cover of the Kinks’ “David Watts”) have been previously released, which means the majority has not. Said booklet talks up a Hammond organ and acoustic piano setup, and that’s apparent, but it’s really the pop tendency that’s undeniable. See “Have I No Love to Offer,” which attaches early Bee Gees sensitivity to harder, bluesy psych. B+

The COPS, First Offense (Artificial Head) Texas has given us two spectacular anti-law enforcement punk anthems in the Dicks’ “Hate the Police” and AK-47’s “The Badge Means You Suck,” but that’s not what this Houston band is up to. Instead, they dress up like cops for live shows (which brings San Francisco’s Crime to mind) and fuse ’70s-’80s police TV docudrama lyrical subject matter to roaring punk that’s been compared to Stooges, Ramones, Misfits, and Minor Threat, but to these ears just feels descended from the KBD/ Bloodstains school of raw blare. That means no pop-punk bullshit, thank goodness, and while I’m not enamored of their schtick, I’m not opposed to it either, as it does help them to stand out. The COPS are made up of dudes from other bands, so longevity may not be an issue. B+

Ford Madox Ford, This American Blues (Porterhouse) This outfit features the talents of Chip Kinman, formerly of The Dils, Rank and File, and Blackbird. The style here is nuevo bluesy rock with psych touches (the R.I.Y.L list includes Dead Meadow, Jon Spencer, and Black Mountain), and while they don’t traverse new ground, that’s alright as Chip took care of that back in the ‘70s. Occasionally his vocals don’t completely connect with the instrumental heft, but at other times he nails it, and if a lot of this is just okay, it’s nice to know he still has a borderline great song in him (“How Does Your Horn Sound Today?”). And I spent the entire first listen with the nagging suspicion that the closing cover of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” was going to suck, but it ended up in the proximity of ‘90s Chilton. Alright. B

The Hanging Stars, Songs for Somewhere Else (Crimson Crow) Back in early ’16, I liked this London psych-folk-Americana band’s debut Over the Silvery Lake, and I like this one, too. It may seem odd to say it, but the long-distance approach to what is for the most part a genre inherent to the USA pays dividends, and not in a novelty way like some Luxembourgian surf band. For the most part, the Atlantic Ocean helps the Stars to avoid mucking matters up by extoling cliché. I say mostly, for “Mean Old Man” dives into whistling Morricone-isms that I’ve gotten a little worn out on. But where Silvery Lake has a few lesser cuts, Somewhere Else just has this one. The psych elements, if mild, also raise the quality, and “Honey Water” sounds like Big Star gone to Nashville. Miranda Lee Richards guests on “How I Got This Way.” B+

Japan Suicide, Santa Sangre (Unknown Pleasures) Yes, the label name led me to suspect a certain something but matters here aren’t that cut and dried. Sure, the fact that these guys formed over a shared love of Jov Div, the Cure, NIN, and Depeche Mode isn’t a bit difficult to discern, but there’s also a spate of non-musical influences, including Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle, The Wicker Man (hopefully, Robin Hardy’s original), Roberto Bolaño’s excellent novel 2666, and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s headfuck of a movie Santa Sangre. I’m reminded that when I finally caught up with El Topo, it was through a boot VHS with burnt-in Japanese subs. Which brings me back to this Italian band’s name. Mishima? Anyway, while I’m not bowled over by these songs, they’re not hard to swallow, and I do dig “For Every Flaw.” B

Miracle, The Strife of Love in a Dream (Relapse) This is Steven Moore of Zombi and Daniel O’Sullivan, whose collaborative credits list includes Ulver, SunnO))), and Guapo, with guest drums by A.E. Paterra, who’s played in Zombi, Majeure, and Maserati. One stated goal here is to evoke the dramatic heights of Depeche Mode. They eventually get around to addressing this aim, and it’s okay, though I’ll admit to preferring Depeche Mode’s more bubblegum early moments. But I say eventually, as the opening track here, “The Parsifal Gate,” is, if you’ll excuse the technical jargon, goofy as shit, complete with echo-chanting early and parodic drums fills late. There is stuff to like; e.g. the sound of “Light Mind” lands halfway between the Mode and the Moody Blues’ “The Voice,” but overall, this is quite inessential. B-

TOC, Will Never Play These Songs Again (Circum-Disc) Fine free-improv-rock from a French trio that’s been at it for a while; this is their sixth release. I’m going to guess that the T in their name represents pianist Jérémie Ternoy, the O drummer Peter Orins, and the C guitarist Ivann Cruz, and their use of post-rock and jazz-core as descriptors for what they do is useful; while the title is an accurate representation of the method, it’s also correct to state that the two long tracks (plus one shorter bonus) aren’t a plunge into total intuitive abstraction. This is where the rock comes in; along with post-rock (the keyboards occasionally suggest a more free-jazz influenced Tortoise) they also cite Krautrock, and I’d say fans of that style and the Rock in Opposition movement will have a very good time with this one. A-

Wei Zhongle, The Operators (Self Sabotage) Across a handful of releases, Chicago’s “post-everything” (per the PR sheet) Wei Zhongle, led by guitarist-vocalist Rob Jacobs through four lineup changes, has arrived at a sound well-described as esoteric-pop. John McCowen’s clarinet is also a constant, though it offers far less goose-wiggle-honk than one might expect, and less so on The Operators in comparison to prior efforts like 2015’s Nu Trance. Trance? Yeah, but even more so, dance. In a lot of arty instances, the invitation to gyrate feels like a concession, made often by acts tired of gazing upon mostly empty floors as they play, but Wei Zhongle’s groove connects as natural, and that they don’t sound like anybody else I can think of offhand is a big mark in their favor. That this stands up to repeated listens, even more. A-

J.D. Wilkes, Fire Dream (Big Legal Mess) Kentuckian Wilkes is well-known for a variety of endeavors; he’s a visual artist, an author, a filmmaker, the sole constant member of The Legendary Shack Shakers, a skilled harmonica man, and as this entry makes plain, a solo musician. A constant thread in all his work is Southern culture, but he doesn’t play it straight, and this disc, with Squirrel Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathis and Drive-By Trucker Matt Patton in the backing band, is a fun ride. Musically sharp and refusing to stay pinned down to one genre, this swings from Appalachian banjo and fiddle to stomping jazziness to Creole sounds, but it’s all held together by Wilkes, whose knowledge-drenched irreverence is occasionally reminiscent of Dexter Romweber as his theatrics can bring Tom Waits to mind. A-

Windhand/Satan’s Satyrs, (Relapse) Like comps, splits can catch a lot of unjust flak. Sure, there are a ton of crummy splits, but there’s also Faith/Void. Relapse’s entry into the slash ranks isn’t as ass-flattening as Dischord No. 8, but it does a share regional focus that enhances the value; both Windhand and Satan’s Satyrs hail from Virginia, the former from Richmond, and the latter from Herndon. There’s some miles of pavement between the two cities, and fittingly, there’s noticeable distance in the styles the bands offer. Windhand’s two long tracks are grind-dirge-doom that’s helped considerably by the femme vocals of Dorthia Cottrell, and the Satyrs dish metal-punk that’s thankfully based on chunky-heft rather than speed, and with a surprise non-crap cover of “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” at the end. B+/ B+

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