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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sumrrá, 6 Mulleres (Clermont) Sumrrá is a Spanish jazz trio of the contempo piano (Manuel Gutiérrez Iglesias), bass (Xacobe Martínez Antelo), and drums (L.A.R. Legido) variety, and their approach, while undeniably accessible, consistently avoids the featherweight mainstream tropes that often drag down the form. Gutierrez in particular favors drive over lightness of touch (I’m reminded a bit of LaMont Johnson), and the brightness of the recording really brings Antelo into the thick of things. The freshness of execution is matched with an admirable concept, with the selections paying trib to six inspirational women, namely Frida Kahlo and Rosa Parks from North America, Rosalía De Castro from Galicia, Qui Jin from China, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, and Nawal El Saadawi from Egypt. A-

Catherine Sikora and Brian Chase, Untitled: After (Chaikin) A CD of sax-drum improvisations inspired by Seamus Haney’s translation of Beowulf? Hey, count me in! Sikora, known for, amongst other collabs, Clockwork Mercury with bassist Eric Mingus, blows tenor and soprano while Chase, high of profile as the drummer for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but with numerous experimental credits to his name (see directly below), handles the kit; the duo exchange (to reference the title of another sax-drums LP, the ’73 classic by Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe), is magnificent throughout. I prefer Sikora on tenor, but that’s no commentary on her abilities; regarding soprano, I feel the same about Trane. Speaking of, it you dig Interstellar Space, don’t sleep on this. Track 6 “brightly forged” even brought Meditations to mind. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Brian Chase, Drums and Drones: Decade (Chaikin) This 3CD + 144-page book really cements Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Chase’s dedication to the avant-garde. It collects Drums and Drones I, which came out in 2013 (with a DVD absent from this collection), II: Ataraxia from ’15, and III: Acoustic from ’17 (the second and last appear to be debuting here). Inspired by the Dream House installation of La Monte Young and Miriam Zazeela and utilizing Just Intonation, the drone bona fides are robust. But while I was cognizant of this connection prior, the results still sounded much different than expected. Striving to reach the meditative, Chase avoids the hackneyed, with the sounds (well-nigh impossible as casual listening) intense and enveloping. An altogether outstanding achievement. A+

Tim Hecker, Haunt Me, Haunt Me Do It Again & Radio Amor (Kranky) The first two full-length releases from Canadian electronic specialist Hecker reissued on double vinyl and CD. Although he’d issued some minimal techno (as Jetone) prior, the 2001 release of Haunt Me on the Alien8 subsidiary Substractif was devoid of beats (well, other than a snippet at the very end, anyway) while blazing a trail ahead of the period’s already forward-thinking glitch crowd (with whom he definitely shared similarities). Debuting for the Mille Plateaux label, ’03’s Radio Amor wasn’t a direct follow-up (notably, there was the “My Love is Rotten To the Core” EP), but today it sounds like the natural successor to his debut. In terms of intellectually-inclined ambient-experimental electronics, these are hard to beat. A/ A-

The Blankz, “White Baby” b/w “Sissy Glue” (Slope) First 45 from this Phoenix-based 5-piece, who all flaunt the same faux surname (three guesses what it is). Their chunky pre-HC Cali punk sound is infused with keyboards (solidifying a mild comparison to Devo) and reach-out-and-grab-ya production from Meat Puppet Cris Kirkwood. The results are tagged as “weirdo punk,” and while I’ve heard weirder, I can appreciate the designation. The A-side details the adoption of singer Tommy, he of Euro-heritage, by a Mexican family as an infant; the inhalant-focused flip brings another band of ersatz siblings to mind. Bluntly, it took me a few spins to shirk off an aversion to the bigness of Tommy’s sneery vocals in the mix, but the instrumental cohesiveness helped, and Nikki’s keys gave this another push upward. B+

Covet, effloresce (Triple Crown) Residing in the Oakland/ San Jose region of California, Covet are an instrumental three-piece getting busy at the intersection of math-rock and post-rock, with their most immediate attribute the highly proficient finger-tap guitar playing of Yvette Young, though as is the norm with rock-based trios, the bass and drums are in capable hands, respectively David Adamiak and Forrest Rice. Unsurprising given the stylistic terrain they cover, there are some tendrils of prog smoke on display, and in opener “Shibuya” I caught a tangible similarity to guitar fusion. That had me worried, but as these six tracks unwind the focus is much more on beauty moves, with the intricacy never an end to itself. If you’re digging the new Messthetics record it’s a safe bet you’ll dig this, too. A-

Cruel Diagonals, Disambiguation (Drawing Room) Other than a digital-only live recording from Adobe Books in San Francisco, this is the debut from Bay Area-based vocalist, composer, and field recordist Megan Mitchell. Amongst numerous other activities, she maintains Many Many Women, a magnificent web index of left-of-field non-male composers I learned about only recently through the press release for this album. Said text also states this disc is likely to please fans of Klara Lewis, Coil, and Broadcast, and I agree, but will add that she’s very much mapped out her own place in the wide-open territory of contempo experimental soundscapes. Often closer to post-industrial than the realms of the futuristic or spacy, there’s a bonus cassette EP for mail-order customers, in an edition of 50. A-

Bobby Darin, Go Ahead and Back Up—The Lost Motown Masters (Real Gone) In 2016 Real Gone released Another Song on My Mind–The Motown Years, an out-of-nowhere 2CD that placed the spotlight on Darin’s late-career Motown stint. Although an LP and some singles were issued back then, the association generally registered as a weird footnote to a distinguished body of work, but Another Song underscored how fruitful, if far from consistently successful, the period was. This maxed-out single CD follows it up, uneven but always interesting, and if it never strays too far or very long from the middle of the road, Darin’s voice was undiminished. And hey, there are a few gems, e.g. his Lovin’ Spoonful-like “I Walk the Line” and the socially-conscious gospel-soul groove “We’re Getting There.” B

Guadalcanal Diary, At Your Birthday Party (Omnivore) I saw this ’80s Georgia band (not Athens, but near Atlanta) play an outdoor PETA benefit in DC back in (I think) the summer of ’88. Late in the set, while sandwiching “Stayin’ Alive” into the middle of “Kumbaya,” guitarist Jeff Walls fell down on stage just as he was tearing into a major solo. I mention this not in jest, as watching him get back up while somehow keeping that solo going made one hell of a positive impression (obviously). Rather, I identify with singer-guitarist Murray Attaway’s belief that they never really got their true sound down on a studio record (they range in quality). In Attaway’s estimation, this live reunion set from ’99, originally self-released (and still CD-only), does. Often tagged as jangle-pop, this is harder-edged stuff. My memory jibes. A-

Kingnomad, The Great Nothing (Ripple) LP two from this Swedish four-piece opens with a choral section before diving into a metal-tinged glide with smoother vocals than is the norm for this sorta thing, and a thrust that’s neither throwing back to the ’70s (or ’80s, for that matter) nor tainted with a ’90s aura. This extends across the whole. The influence of doom is certainly extant, but overall, the descriptor of occult metal is a better fit. Thankfully, they don’t go overboard, and there are touches of prog and even a little psych in the guitar flourishes. The inclusion of audio clips, harpsichord, organ, and synth widens the palette while never registering as grafted on, and the closing title track bests 22 minutes without running out of stream. No heart punches are delivered, but that’s alright by me. B+

Willie Nelson, Things to Remember – The Pamper Demos (Real Gone) Nelson’s debut was recently reissued by Jackpot. ‘twas nice. But this collection of the man’s demos for Pamper Music (the publishing company owned by Ray Price) is the real jackpot. Predating his first LP, the 28 songs document a major gush of writing, with Nelson cutting the baseline versions of his early career-defining works “Hello Walls,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Crazy.” Some, even much, of this set has been issued before, but never complete and never sounding this good. Although not intended for release, Willie’s in stronger voice than on his debut, and the strings and backing singers don’t show up until side four (and then, only twice). The best stuff (e.g. “Are You Sure”) is just vocals and guitar. A-

Obscura, Diluvium (Relapse) Here’s the fifth LP from this München, Germany-based progressive metal act. To put a finer stylistic point on it, Obscura are merchants of tech-death, which in this case indicates highly adept musicians, with their handiwork dishing more angles than a dump truck full of polygons, guitar crunch that complements the flailing, wiggling, sometimes mathematical leads, and beaucoup drum thud as the tracks sail and soar forth. Guttural vocals? You are goddamned straight there are. Prog-like bombast is also abundant, and as Diluvium is the last in a four-part “conceptual circle,” the band is both thematically and formally ambitious. It’s the first of the four I’ve spend time with, so I’m unable to judge the broader scope, but in terms of heavy virtuosity, this one is teeming. A-

Pictish Trail, Future Echoes (Fire) I suspect Fire could’ve done a straight reissue of this, the third full record from Scottish folk-tronic popper Johnny Lynch, and nobody, except hardcore completists maybe, would’ve been bothered. But this here’s a deluxe edition, with the extra LP holding “stripped-back” versions of the proper album, live songs from his full band, and a BBC session, so completists can sigh sweet relief. I’ll confess to only casual, infrequent interaction with the Pictish Trail oeuvre, so this serves as a proper, if belated, and at nearly 83 minutes, bountiful introduction. The mingling of strummed guitars, electronic textures, synthetic beats, and legit (occasionally Pet Shop Boys-ish) songs is varied yet cohesive and pleasurable throughout. I suspect non-completist fans will want to upgrade. B+

V/A, Onda De Amor: Synthesized Brazilian Hits That Never Were (1984-94) (Soundway) A CD/ 2LP collection of “16 rare synth cuts from ’80s and ’90s Brazil.” DJ and digger Millos Kaiser is the compiler. To elaborate, this is pop with synths (though not what I’d call synth-pop), and the Never Were comes down to the fact that most this stuff was privately pressed. A stated goal of this set is to rehabilitate an era that many of Kaiser’s Brazilian compatriots apparently look down upon or ignore. I understand, and yet must confess to spending the years covered here running as far the fuck away from this style’s English-language equivalent as possible. Maybe it’s just the private press nature of the proceedings, but there’re some enjoyable selections here, and most of the lesser cuts have interesting aspects. ‘tis okay. B

Cliff Westfall Baby You Win (Self-released) This seems to be Westfall’s debut. It’s the only music on his website and Bandcamp, at any rate. If so, these songs point to a talent to watch, or more appropriately, hear. Plainly in classic honky-tonk mode, but not laboring for authenticity, he’s a Kentucky native and current Big Apple resident. Cowpunk is in his background, not unusual for a lot of neo-old-school country cats, but there’s no trace of disruptiveness here. Instead, the comparison to Dwight Yoakum is just, but doesn’t really cover Westfall’s lyrical strengths; he’s witty and fresh in a genre too often prizing cliché. The music’s handled with panache by a loaded band including Scott Metzger, Dan Iead, and Charlie Giordano, and polished up (maybe a little too much) by producer Bryce Goggin. B+

Wilder Maker, Zion (Northern Spy) Featuring guitarist Gabriel Birnbaum and keyboardist Katie Von Schleicher, Wilder Maker tackles the songs of the former, but in part through their shared lead vocals, and additionally the sharp input of bassist Sean Mullins (who plays with Kevin Garrett) and drummer Nick Jost (ditto Baroness), the results connect as the work of a band. Which is what they are. The vocal split is a positive, mainly because Von Schleicher has some pipes. But it’s also how she contrasts with Birnbaum’s somewhat Dylan-ish delivery, an approach there’s been no shortage of over the years. However, he’s far from a craven mimic; opener “Closer To God” persists in reminding me of T-Bone Burnett’s early solo stuff, and “Women Dancing Immortal” offers non-toxic shades of Paul Simon. A-

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