Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, March 2018, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Tania Chen, John Cage: Electronic Music for Piano (Omnivore) The immediate draw, at least for those with a casual interest in Cage, will be the players; Thurston Moore brings his guitar, Flying Lizard and Eno cohort David Toop multitasks, experimental electronic composer Jon Leidecker contributes mobiles and mixer, and noted musician and composer Gino Robair produces. But it’s Chen who gets the deserved top billing. An esteemed interpreter of Cage (and many of his peers), this finds her tackling one of his most rarely performed scores (due to its cryptic, minimal instructions), and fans of experimental classical (and lovers of abstract noise) should be stoked. Cage’s (lack of) guidelines offer latitude most can’t handle, but Chen and crew embrace it. The results are gripping. A

Keiji Haino & SUMAC, American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look at Face On (Thrill Jockey) Haino’s the avant-noise king of Japanese guitar and SUMAC’s comprised of ex-members of Baptists, Russian Circles, and ISIS, so one could be forgiven for assuming this collab is a start-to-finish exercise in aural brutality. To be sure, there are some hairy (but communicative) passages here, many of them extended, but hey, the title track (and what a title it is) opens with flute, and the reality is that both sides of this team-up deliver more than pummel and abrasion. Much more. Across four sides of vinyl, free-rock is in abundance, a mode familiar to Haino fans through Fushitsusha and Nazoranai, but SUMAC (and Nick Yacyshyn’s drum thunder especially) instills a distinct flavor. A

REISSUE PICKS: Milt Jackson & John Coltrane, Bags & Trane (ORG Music) I’ve covered this meeting of vibraphonist Jackson and sax giant Coltrane before, as part of Rhino’s The Atlantic Years in Mono box set, but this is the 2LP 180gm stereo version, back in stock after being OOP for two years. It’s not inexpensive, but for audiophiles, it’s an utterly rich dish. I’m generally a non-fan of the vibes, though Jackson is one of the big exceptions. He does solidify the expertly executed straight-ahead direction here, as pianist Hank Jones, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Connie Kay (Jackson’s cohort in the Modern Jazz Quartet) fill out the band. Trane’s in fine form. If I persist in ranking this set as a little less than top-tier, it’s largely due to the atmosphere of casualness. Of course, this brings its own appeal. A-

Cindy Lee, Act of Tenderness (W.25TH) Cindy Lee is the project of Patrick Flegel, formerly of the Canadian outfit Women, and like Malenkost, which was reissued by W.25TH last year, Act of Tenderness dates from late 2015; it was initially issued in an edition of 300 on the CCQSK label. Described as Flegel’s diva alter-ego, Cindy Lee plants a flag at the intersection of lo-fi, experimentation and ’60s Brill Building-ish pop, and the results are fascinatingly surreal. In my short review of Malenkost, I mentioned David Lynch, and this time W.25TH pinpoints Eraserhead. Last time out, the mentions of No Wave were validated, but on “Bonsai Garden” here, I’m getting more of an Industrial noise vibe. However, “Miracle of the Rose” comes off like first LP Velvets at their most extreme shorn down to a duo of Cale and Nico. Wowsers. A-

6 String Drag, Top of the World (Schoolkids) The reunited 6 String Drag’s prior work, including the cool and just reissued High Hat, finds them further shaking off the genre descriptors of alt-country and Americana, with the band focusing on fittingly mature melodic guitar rock (an aspect of their sound going way back); Kenny Roby’s voice continues to remind me of E. Costello (and that’s cool), but overall, this nicely embodies the title of their last one: Roots Rock ‘N’ Roll. It’s the aura is of a crack regional band that’s been given a shot at the big-time sans any executive decisions fucking things up, and with songwriting that’s a few cuts above the norm. I’d say fans of Costello, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Tom Petty, and Springsteen will dig; the title-track even brought Surf’s Up-era B. Wilson briefly to mind. B+

A Certain Smile, Fits and Starts (Self-released) This, the debut LP from a Portland, OR combo, came out in a limited edition last August, and giving it a few spins, it’s unsurprising that it’s getting a second press; like the last, there’re 150 copies in hand-screened jackets. The band’s self-described specialty is a blend of Sarah (twee), Slumberland (noise pop), and Creation Records (shoegaze), and across ten tracks and a tidy half hour they have the recipe’s measurements down uncommonly well. A high-quality batch of songs helps matters, as do production flourishes (e.g. the faux-symphonic keyboard in standout “Morning Sun”) that are well-integrated into sharp, energetic execution (surely honed through practice, and it also appears, live performance). “Leisure Class” and closer “Mexican Coke” are also keen. A-

Cheap Tissue, S/T (Lolipop) The first LP from Los Angelinos Cheap Tissue delivers solid dual-guitar ’70s punk action, which is appropriate as they’ve shared stages with The Vibrators, Zeros, and Slaughter & the Dogs. Pulling off this sorta thing across a full LP is a difficult trick, but these cats don’t falter, in large part because they rage a little harder did than most of their root influences, and get the job done in under 25 minutes. This makes for a pogoing good time, but they also keep a handle on the melodic thread, with a handful of these dozen cuts accurately described as catchy, a factor enhanced by occasional vocal harmonies amid the raw-throat roar. The Damned and Dead Boys comparisons aren’t off target, and if you need a record to help delay wearing out your copy of L.A.M.F., then step right up. A-

Forming the Void / Pyreship, split (Endhipendit Record Co.) One track each on a 10-inch. Louisiana’s Forming the Void have been called prog-sludge, and that drives home a couple of realities. First, they’re not toiling in too-deep a subgenre, and second, the opposing sides of their hyphen bring balance; if not so submerged in the muck, neither are they overly technical. ’90’s influenced? Sure, but at a few points, guitarist-vocalist James Marshall sounds like he’s yelling from a mountaintop with a hammer in his hand, and that’s alright. Houston’s Pyreship stretch out a little more as they profess the influence of slowcore and noise rock, and that’s alright, too. Opening with audio from Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech, their two-guitar attack undertakes a gradual build with some vocalizing emerging later in the game. B/ B

Kenneth James Gibson, In the Fields of Nothing (Kompakt) Californian electronic composer, singer, and songwriter Gibson has released a slew of material under a variety of aliases, my favorite (aliases) being Premature Wig and Men in Slippers. He was also in Furry Things, co-ran the Adjunct Audio label, and has collaborated with Brian McBride of Stars of the Lid (in Bell Gardens) and Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto (as Hiss & Buzz). This is his third studio LP under his birth name; per Kompakt’s press sheet, the contents took shape as a proper film soundtrack, and as these ten selections unwind the intention is felt. However, he also covers numerous stylistic bases, with “Far from Home” a dip into sad pop, and the recurring blend of ambient, analog synth and neo-classical a real pleasure throughout. A-

Gloria, “Oîdophon Echorama” (Ample Play) Lyon, France’s Gloria is a sextet fronted by three female singers. The vinyl of this, their second release, comes in a hand-screen-printed kraft paper sleeve in homage to 78s, but the strain of psychedelic pop-rock they offer is undeniably ’60s in comportment, a scenario only deepened by the mini-LP-sized dosage. Across six songs, production flourishes (like horns on opener “Heavy,” which features guest Arianna Monteverdi) and loads of fuzz guitar nail down the framework, but it’s the oft-Spector-ish harmony vocals that really sets this apart. A lotta neo-psych-pop is as substantial as a saltine cracker, but this is a heartier proposition. Plus, “Heavy” is maybe the best food song I’ve heard since Reverb Motherfuckers’ “Highway to Hojo’s,” and that was a long time ago. A-

Monophonics, “Mirrors” (Transistor Sound) The latest from this Bay Area psych-soul crew takes on six covers, two of them bookending instrumentals and the rest with vocals, for an enjoyable ride. The opener “Summer Breeze” is attentive to The Main Ingredient’s prior cover, and if there are similarities to Bob James (not a positive in my book), it’s rhythmically strong, and I’ve always liked (really liked) the tune. Things pick up with digs into The Invincibles’ “My Heart Cries,” a trucking little take of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons’ “Beggin’” (also available as a 45), Black Merda’s “Lying,” The Nu People’s “I’d Be Nowhere Today,” and a Mediterranean-flavored reading of “California Dreaming.” Is the last one as good as Bobby Womack’s? Well, no. But if you dig Womack’s version, I’ll bet you’ll like this one, too. B+

Nap Eyes, I’m Bad Now (Paradise of Bachelors – Jagjaguwar – You’ve Changed) PoB, who are handling the album in the US (You’ve Changed has Canada and Jagjaguwar everywhere else) calls this the third chapter in the Canadian band’s “implicit, informal trilogy,” but hey, I’ve arrived late (there’s a LOT of music out there, people); the quality makes plain I’ll be catching up. On first listen, it didn’t take long to think of Dan Behar, in part due to cadence, but more so because Nigel Chapman sings like a poet, with words consistently deserving of such treatment. Comparisons to Bill Callahan and Lou Reed are also appropriate, but it’s the instrumentation’s deliciously contrasting crisp guitar pop (Chapman engages with it terrifically in closer “Boats Appear”) that really drives home the specialness of this endeavor. A-

Oneida, Romance (Joyful Noise) It’s been six years since Oneida’s A List of the Burning Mountains, a final record made in their Brooklyn studio the Ocropolis (since demolished), though in the meantime there’s been numerous other projects (Man Forever, People of the North, etc.), a studio collab with Rhys Chatham that came out in late ’16, and a live 2LP (documenting a 2015 show) from last spring. Recorded over the span of years at various locations, Romance finds the group in strong form; part of the fun of Oneida is how they are tangibly experimental while maintaining cohesiveness and coherence, dual factors that even apply to this 72-minute set’s tidy Suicide-Krautrock merger “It Was Me.” Unsurprisingly, they shine here on the two extended tracks. “Cockfight” is an unexpected rocker. A-

Station 17, Blick (Bureau B) The notion of inclusion as a societal good has seen a welcome upsurge of late, but Station 17, a Hamburg-based outfit composed of musicians with and without disabilities, has been putting the concept into action for over a quarter century. This is the group’s tenth album, and it covers a lot of range, from electro disco pop (“Schaust Du”) to free-improv (“Zauberpudding”), but through the reliable adhesive of Krautrock, everything congeals rather nicely. As on prior efforts, there’s a bunch of notable collaborators here, including Jean-Hervé Perron and Zappi Diermaier of Faust and Ulrich Schnauss (a recent addition to Tangerine Dream), who contributes to the delightful glide of closer “Sternenteleskop.” LP comes with a bonus 12-inch, but those are two cuts I’ve not heard. A-

Uncle Walt’s Band, Anthology: Those Boys from Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing…. (Omnivore) Formed in mid-’70s Spartanburg, SC by guitarist Walter Hyatt, upright bassist David Ball, and guitarist-fiddler-mandolinist Champ Hood, as the title makes clear, the core of their thing is vocal harmony. Settling in Austin after a period in Nashville, they cut a few albums (copies of their debut, ’74’s Blame It on the Bossa Nova, go for major bucks today), became a musician’s fave (Lyle Lovett and Jimmie Dale Gilmore are fans) and then broke up in ’83 without entering the popular consciousness. Largely a country affair but with elements of jazz, blues, pop classicism, and even rock ‘n’ roll mingled in, the sound can be down home but it’s never rustic, and the natural gentleness goes down easy. A-

The Watchers, Black Abyss (Ripple) This is only the second release from San Francisco’s The Watchers (following a 2016 EP), but they come with experience; bassist Chris “Cornbread” Lombardo was in White Witch Canyon and in SpiralArms with Watchers’ singer Tim Narducci, while drummer Carter Kennedy was in Orchid and guitarist Jeremy Von Eppic was part of Black Gates and The Venting Machine. The sound is metallic in line with Ripple’s objectives, but not doomy or sludgy; instead, they dish out loads of riffs at often quick tempos that never explode into raging speed. The rhythm section’s legitimately heavy but nimble enough to navigate the songs’ melodic contours (yes, there is melody here), the solos are engaging, and the vocals don’t detract. Altogether, a serving of heavy metal done right. A-

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