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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings (International Anthem) Everything I’ve heard thus far from Paris-born, New England-reared, and long-time Windy City resident Makaya McCraven has been sweet, but this 90-minute 2LP/ 2CD is a knockout, in part through sheer enlargement, comprised as it is from four sessions (one per vinyl side), two of them live (in NYC and Chicago), one in studio (in London) and one at guitarist Jeff Parker’s house (in L.A.). Hitting a sweet spot between the flowing expansiveness of spiritual jazz and the rhythmic thrust of hip-hop (which adds some crucial toughness), there’s also some beneficial avant-garde edge as drummer McCraven provides significant post-production to the whole. Overall, it clarifies how the “jazz is dead” crowd remains utterly full of shit. A

Neneh Cherry, Broken Politics (Smalltown Supersound) Given the title, you might expect Cherry’s latest (and first since 2014’s Blank Project) to be a (perfectly appropriate) rage fest, but while anger is an element in this sonic stew, no; in some ways this is an antidote to the exhaustion that can result from too frequent bouts of furiousness. Working at Creative Music Studio in Woodstock and again with producer Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet), there’s mucho nuance here, and the range of topics, amongst them the refugee crisis in “Kong” and gun violence in “Shot Gun Shack,” fruitfully combine with a broad musical palette (vibraphonist Karl Berger guests for a track). Along with Cherry’s rich voice (whether singing, speaking, or rapping), Hebden’s occasionally trip-hoppy production lends focus. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Bauhaus, In the Flat Field & Mask (Beggars Arkive) Even if the qualitative track record of subsequent Gothsters was pretty dang poor, Bauhaus shall not be blamed; often credited as the kick-starters of said musical (life)style (given Siouxsie, it’s a distinction that’s at least somewhat arguable), Bauhaus was a fine band (‘tis true many didn’t think so while they were extant), and one that I don’t think ever sounded better than they did early on. Commencing a hefty reissue program that stretches into December, here’s full-length debut In the Flat Field and follow-up Mask. Keeping in mind the lack of extras from later CD editions, Flat offers a handful of the band’s strongest moments, while Mask’s positive refinements help to shape their most consistent, and best album. A-/ A

Space Streakings, First Love 初恋: Debut Album and Demo Tracks (Skin Graft) Part of a fertile Japanese u-ground scene that’s highest-profile export was Boredoms, Space Streakings sometimes sounded like an espresso company-sponsored video game tournament taking place in the pit of a battle of the bands where the horn-section-flanked spazz-core finalists nix the idea of taking turns and just go for broke simultaneously. This glass-mastered compact disc in a six-panel jacket collects their ’93 debut Hatsu-Koi, originally released on Nux Organization (the label of Zeni Geva’s KK Null, who also produced), and adds a prior demo. For those bummed over the lack of vinyl, both of Space Streakings subsequent efforts, ’94’s Steve Albini-assisted 7-Toku and their ’96 collab with Mount Shasta, are currently available on wax. A-

Adeline Hotel, Away Together (Ruination Record Co.) This is Brooklynite Dan Knishkowy’s singer-songwriter project, which has a prior (cassette-only) full-length out; other than a 2014 lathe cut 45 in an edition of 50, this appears to be his vinyl debut. Featuring at least eight additional contributors including occasional harmony vocals by Cassandra Jenkins, Adeline Hotel has been likened to “Wilco fronted by Will Oldham,” and while I do hear that, I also wish the scenario was a little edgier or maybe just more eccentric. For me, the accompaniment here is essential, as the pleasantness of voice and picked string often steers close to the middle of the road. But other than the folky soft-rock bonus cut “Relief,” it doesn’t seem like Knishkowy’s striving for this lane. Here’s just there. I enjoy the bustling “Lightning.” B

Klaus Johann Grobe, Du Bist So Symmetrisch (Trouble In Mind) This Swiss duo has two prior full-lengths out, but I haven’t heard either, mainly because I don’t actively seek out decidedly ’80s-ish Germanic electro-funk-pop. But sometimes ’80-ish Germanic electro-funk-pop seeks me out, so here’s their third. Although nothing on this gets me excited, keyboardist-vocalist Sevi Landolt and bassist-vocalist Daniel Bachmann have the sound down, and it helps that it’s not too slick, with the bass prominent in the mix. They also sing exclusively (and appealingly) in German, so I’ll categorize this as a legit descendant of the dancy offspring of Krautrock. That’s to say, if you dig Kraftwerk in BPM mode, you’ll probably dig this, too. I could’ve really done without the pop-fusion-esque elements, however. B

Phillip Johnston & the Coolerators, Diggin’ Bones & Phillip Johnston, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Asynchronous) Johnston’s a sax man, composer and bandleader (known for his extensive work leading the Microscopic Septet), and after moving from NYC to Sydney, he assembled the avant organ jazz group the Coolerators, featuring Alister Spence on keys, The Necks’ Lloyd Swanton on bass and Nic Cecire on drums. If edgier than standard organ jazz, the whole is still mighty inviting (and klezmer-tinged), so if you enjoy Microscopic and/ or Medeski, Martin & Wood, I’ll bet you’ll like this, too. I dig it, but very slightly prefer the other release here, which is a new score for female film pioneer Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 silent animated feature (the world’s first), with organ also prevalent. Both are CD-only. A-/ A

NRBQ, All Hopped Up (Omnivore) This website has already hosted my enthusiastic review of this superb LP by one of the USA’s finest (cornerstone) cult bands, but as it’s Omnivore’s latest dip into this enduring outfit’s substantial and life-affirming body of work, and with a vinyl option (as was the case earlier this year with the new edition of their self-titled debut), I shall again drop a few words of encouragement for novices, while noting that the wax includes no download option and the compact disc holds four extra tracks, three that were available back in ’99 on Rounder’s Ridin’ In My Car CD, and “Do the Bump,” which was the B-side to ’77’s “Ridin’ In My Car” 45 (if the idea of buying another CD fills you with great dread, there will be a purchasable download option). But get this however you can, for it’s essential. A

Public Practice, Distance is a Mirror (Wharf Cat) When a press release trumpets its subject as offering post-punk and disco in some combination, if I choose to advance, I advance with the bar of expectation low, frankly because the chances the results will be underwhelming are quite high. But advance here I did, mainly due to Wharf Cat’s releases having yet to steer me wrong. Learning that Sam York (formerly of WALL) was involved also helped. And with this 4-song 12-inch, everybody’s batting 1,000. Hey! Talking Heads get cited as a touchstone, but the first couple tracks reminded me of Debbie Harry fronting a Gang of Four-like unit. “Foundation” is a bit like those Heads, resembling “Once in Lifetime” more than slightly, but there’s a cool funky turnabout in the midsection. Inspired stuff. A-

The Skiffle Players, Skiff (Spiritual Pajamas) If you’re expecting reedy-looking dudes in suits strumming out a batch of Lonnie Donegan tunes, don’t; this is quite the hippie-rockish proposition, specifically the second full LP from Neal Casal and Dan Horne (both of Circles Around the Sun), Farmer Dave Scher and Aaron Sperske (both of Beachwood Sparks), and Cass McCoombs. Along with such behemoths of street music as the Memphis Jug Band, these guys do acknowledge ol’ Lonnie as part of a continuum that leads up to their thing, namely West Coast Skiffle, where the sound is loose (but not too loose), highly adept (but casual in attitude), and overall a little reminiscent of the Cali psych bands who started embracing earthbound songs at the turn of the ’70s (but didn’t suck). Except a bit weirder. And a smidge better. A-

Martha Spencer, S/T (Self-released) As this CD’s cover sees the artist sitting atop a stool with guitar while sporting a cowboy hat, you might get the perfectly sensible impression of pre-countrypolitan C&W, and with rockabilly shadings. But as “Hard Headed Woman” (a tune well-known via Wanda Jackson) gets covered, the debut from this Blue Ridge Mountain-bred singer and multi-instrumentalist is deeper than that. Immersed in music from a young age through her family’s Whitetop Mountain Band, Spencer’s string band, bluegrass, gospel, and C&W influences (with a touch of blues, even) are well-integrated across a sharply played and powerfully sung set, over half of which is solid original material. If you enjoy the serious turns of Dolly, Emmy, and Linda, this one should buck you up very nicely. A-

Spiritualized, Fucked Up Inside (Glass Redux) This reissue (originally from ’93 and limited to 1,000 compact discs) first emerged on CD last November, with a limited clear wax edition arriving back in April for Record Store Day. Here it is now, widely available for the first time on vinyl, and that’s cool. The contents were undeniably much cooler back in ’93, when “Take Good Care of It” and “Medication” were exclusive tracks (the studio versions are found on ’95’s Pure Phase). As is the case with most live LPs, and with heavy-duty Spiritualized fans excepted, these days it’s probably not a must, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth having around, as it includes an enjoyable version of “Walking With Jesus” (from Jason Pierce’s prior band, don’tcha know) and solid takes of material from Laser Guided Melodies. B+

Star Rover, I May Be Lost But I’m Laughing (11A) The duo of Will Graefe and Jeremy Gustin (with added contributions) came to me tagged as “instrumental art-rock.” However, there are also vocals, and bluntly, upon first listen I would’ve been more taken with this 10-track LP if there wasn’t. While the singing isn’t bad, its airiness kinda situated this as at least partially a 21st century indie thing. Not a deal breaker by any means (“Red Skies” is an exception, even), but it did shift the focus away from what these guys seemed to be best at. And as they really hit stride in the sans-vocals midsection of the LP, courtesy of “Plain Air” and a sweet left-field cover of Sonny Sharrock’s “Blind Willie,” my initial impression felt right. But with additional spins, the voices sank in a bit, so maybe it’ll grow further. B

Stop Motion Orchestra, Lightworks (Megaphone – Knock ‘em Dead) This often-delightful excursion into proggy art-rock from an Austin-based outfit does feature a touch of wordless vocals (courtesy of saxophonist-flautist Leila Henley), though it’s ultimately a minor element. The beaucoup violin (from the classically trained Alden Doyle) reminded me just a little of Zappa’s Hot Rats, though the overall thrust (with Doyle, the Brazil-born Indian/American guitarist-composer Mohadev and cellist/synthesist Henna Chou are the band’s founding members) is tangibly Rock In Oppositionist (an association underscored by SMO having played live shows with Colorado’s RIO associated Thinking Plague). In terms of non-noodlesome prog goodness, this is up to Cuneiform Records’ standards, and that’s no faint praise. A-

Pat Thomas, I Ain’t Buying It (Empty Cellar) Thomas is a member of San Fran’s Cool Ghouls. He debuted solo via cassette EP on Burger back in 2013, and this vinyl follow-up is an appealingly ambitious effort. The title relates not to the recent gush of info malarkey but to the issue of affordable housing, which given Thomas’ locale is a sensible topic, though other themes are fruitfully addressed, as well. Musically, comparisons have been made to the Beach Boys and Love, a combined tall order that’s somewhat delivered as the Brother Records-era feel of “Are You Okay” offers a simultaneous undercurrent a little reminiscent of Wild Man Fischer in his Straight-Bizarre period. There’s also the significant impact of soul music to consider, with “Alternator” bringing to mind James & Bobby Purify. Neat. A-

Upper Wilds, Mars (Thrill Jockey) Guitarist-vocalist Dan Friel’s noise-pop endeavor gets somewhat conceptual (the songs relate to colonizing the titular planet), receives a production boost from noted NYC studio wiz Martin Bisi, and finds live drummer Jeff Ottenbacher joining the fray for the first time on record; the massive bass fuzz of Zach Lehroff completes the band. Friel’s processed vocals in opener “Dead Mall” kinda made it seem like Dan Deacon had also signed up, but then “Hellcoder” brought Joe Meek to mind. Right on. Heavily distorted to the point of theoretically appealing to sludge-metal fans, Upper Wilds also offer hooks galore, particularly in the trifecta of “Wine Flies,” “Perfect Eyesight,” and the title track. While all the elements here are familiar, the results are rather distinctive, overall. A-

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