Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2019, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for February, 2019. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, SLR 30 Singles Subscription Series (Slumberland Records) Back in 1990, I scooped up Slumberland’s single of Velocity Girl’s “I Don’t Care If You Go” and I’ve been a fan of the label ever since. This series (copies will also be available in stores, all with download codes) kicked off back in October and is slated to finish near the end of 2019, and as it focuses on 45s (which have been something of a label specialty) it’s a fitting way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Slumberland’s considerable achievement, while spotlighting artists that aren’t part of the endeavor’s historical or current scheme. Here’s a rundown of the first four, and we’ll keep track moving forward to December.

The Suncharms, “Red Dust” b/w “Film Soundtrack” Formed in ’89, this UK-based quintet knocked out a couple of records shortly after and played a handful of opening spots for notable acts of period (including Television Personalities, The Orchids, Cranes, and Catherine Wheel). This landed them a Peel Session and had Slumberland eager to get them on the roster, though a breakup occurred before that could happen. Due to the positive response to their eponymous 2016 retrospective CD the band reconvened and began working on new material. Here’s the first evidence, with the A-side starting out as nice mid-tempo guitar-pop before the amps kick in and the tempo picks up. The boost might register as inevitable, but it’s far from hackneyed, and the flip is a loud melodic fiesta of solos. A-

Rat Columns, “Sometimes We’re Friends b/w “Astral Lover” & “Waiting to Die” When ponying up for a subscription series or singles club, a definite perk is receiving fresh exposure to previously unheard bands. That’s the case here with me and Rat Columns, though I am familiar with project leader David West’s other outfit Rank Xerox (he was also in Total Control). Diving into indie pop but with a decided Down Under feel (Down Undercurrent?), this is the Perth, Australia lineup of Rat Columns (the group has had US members), and it connects as distinct from his other stuff, with the A-side starting out a little moody with synth and then shifting into high-jangle gear (the synth sticks around). “Astral Lover” is a concise dose of chamber pop and “Waiting to Die” an unflustered, guitar-infused stroll. I dig. A-

David Lance Callahan, “Strange Lovers” b/w “Waiting for the Cut-Off” Another cool aspect of subscriptions/ clubs is getting to catch up with new material from musicians that have made an impact on your consciousness for a long time. I’m that way with Callahan, who was in C86 act The Wolfhounds (their “Anti-Midas Touch” remains one of my favorite songs from the era) and in the ‘90s was part of the quite happenin’ Too Pure band Moonshake (The Wolfhounds reformed in 2010 and have released LPs since). These two cuts are Callahan’s first ever solo recordings ahead of a full LP planned for some time this year. “Strange Lovers,” while not twee, does attain a level of well-mannered sophistication (complete with fingerpicking and chimes) that’s as English as a crumpet. Flip’s a likeable strummer. B+

Dolly Dream, “The Way to Heaven” b/w “Slip Thru Hell” And yet one more nifty facet of the sub/ club scenario is records that divert from expectations, and of these four short-players this one is the most surprising if not the strongest overall. Featuring Meg Remy of US Girls with assistance from members of Fucked Up, “The Way to Heaven” is ’60s throwback gal-pop that’s just off-kilter enough to have drawn comparisons to the dreamy-achy songs familiar to the soundtracks of David Lynch. I can hear that, but the considerably more wacked-out B-side is a bit like music Lynch might’ve used for a short film from around the time of Fire Walk with Me or Lost Highway. Its only shortcoming is that it’s over too quickly. Dolly Dream radiates like a one-off but is engagingly weird enough that I hope I’m wrong. B+

A Place To Bury Strangers, “Fuzz Club Session” (Fuzz Club) For the Fuzz Club Sessions, of which there are now a dozen installments, acts get invited by this prolific UK-based neo-psychedelic label to record live-in-the-studio one-take sets of 30 minutes in length using entirely analogue gear; every entry I’ve checked out thus far (that’s most of ‘em) has been a winner, and this one’s no different. In fact, it might be the best one I’ve heard. Some folks might be thinking that APTBS’ sound, which is heavy enough that it’s been described as noise rock, is poised to chalk up a bit of a departure for this series. Although the veteran NYC band are loud, distorted and capable of dishing some racket, to my ear they are just as aptly tagged as hard contempo psych-rock. The live in the studio feel really shines on this one. A-

Abjects, Never Give Up (Yippie Ki Yay) London’s Abjects are singer-guitarist Noemi from Spain, bassist Yuki from Japan, and drummer Alice from Italy, and their sound is described as garage-punk. They come roaring out of the gate with opener “Aburrido,” but with the following cut “Never Give Up” settle down a bit, tapping into melodicism (and tandem vocals) without losing their hard edge. This seems to be the zone in which they are most comfortable, though there is some variety in the songwriting that proves beneficial; “Mañana” features some welcome punky sting-pulse guitar while “The Secret” has a drum thump-big riff with a nice rave-up finale reminding me a bit of the ’80s-’90s Pacific Northwest, like the Fastbacks recording for Estrus Records or something. Guitar and vox lend cohesiveness. Promising. B+

Chicago Odense Ensemble, S/T (El Paraiso) Here’s the byproduct of a Windy City visit by Danish guitarist Jonas Munk and drummer Jakob Skøtt, both of the outfit Causa Sui, and their studio hookup with guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Dan Bitney of Tortoise, bassist Matt Lux, percussionist Brian Keigher, and the current king of Chicago cornet, Rob Mazurek. Improvs were laid down and ideas explored, with Munk taking the tapes back to Odense, Denmark and then working a little Teo Macero magic. That namedrop means Munk “edited, re-arranged and mixed” as the music points to a congruence with Miles’ electric period, though as an assemblage of seasoned players they make considerable inroads into their own thing. Fans of non-crap fusion should not sleep on what’s likely to be a grower. A-

Ivan “Mamão” Conti, Poison Fruit (Far Out Recordings) Conti is the drummer in Azymuth, a Brazilian jazz-funk trio that sprang to life around 1973 with a ton of albums since. After hip-replacement surgery in 2017 secured through crowdfunding by friends and fans, this is Conti’s first solo album in two decades, and it’s about as rhythmic as you’d expect from a guy who’s helped dish samba-derived sounds for over 50 years. I’m guessing it’s just the samba doido (crazy samba) philosophical edge that gets highlighted in Far Out’s biographical text that helps this set to largely go down easy; I say largely, as there are elements in the mix that amplify Conti’s background in ’70s funky-fusioneering. They lessen the impact for me a bit but never become bothersome. LP; nine tracks. CD; 16, with five remixes. B+

Moppa Elliot, Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band (Hot Cup) Three different bands across two CDs with the common denominator Elliot, who’s the bassist for Mostly Other People Do the Killing (amongst other projects). Make that three wildly different bands. Advancing on a Wild Pitch resides in a recognizably straight-ahead ’60s jazz zone, Unspeakable Garbage is inspired by ’80s mersh rock (directly so via contributing saxophonist Jon Irabagon’s group Starship Journey) and Acceleration Due to Gravity springs from Elliot’s notion of modern dance music in its varied forms (specifically, hip-hop, R&B and loop-based productions). The second and third groups can be wild affairs, with lots of hearty blowing, but structurally they just don’t click with me like MOPDtK does. Overall, it’s still a worthwhile time. B+

ENDON, Boy Meets Girl (Thrill Jockey) Called “the most extreme band in Tokyo,” there’s not a bit of hyperbole in that statement, as this will pin your ass to the wall like you’re a fresh specimen in God’s butterfly collection. Sparking thoughts of Melt Banana and Masonna but with moments of thud-sludge-doom (Atsuo of Boris produced), this 30-minute skin-stripper is as connected to rock (with electronics) as it is abstract abrasion. There’s also a storyline of sorts relating to the album’s title, with the opening title track depicting the birth of our boy in a “womb of noise.” From there, he has to cope with being in the world, navigating emotional connection and issues of the self. Unlike the sometimes-tiresome transgressive narratives that can accompany music of this extremity, this one’s pretty relatable. A-

Iro Haarla, Ulf Krokfors and Barry Altschul, Around Again – The Music of Carla Bley (Tum) Haarla is a Finnish multi-instrumentalist, composer and bandleader active since the 1970s, her main axe the piano, and for this CD she joins with bassist and fellow Finn Krokfors and NYC-reared drummer Altschul to play the work of the distinctive and deservedly-esteemed American pianist-composer. Most of their choices first emerged on a batch of mid-’60s LPs made by the bands of her then husband, pianist Paul Bley (one was debuted by Jimmy Giuffre, two by Gary Burton, and one from Carla’s ’81 alb Social Studies), with some of those sessions featuring a young Altschul; his participation here adds depth as the trio pushes forward rather than simply paying tribute, making this set exciting in addition to admirable. A

Homeshake, Helium (Sinderlyn) A resident of Montreal, Peter Sagar is Homeshake. Of his work, now totaling four albums, this is my introduction. The story is that Sagar began in guitar-based indie territory, though over time he lost interest in strings and amps. Diverting into the realms of synths, his changeup coincided with a stylistic dive into “lo-fi R&B.” This sort of instrumental ditching/switching can produce music that ranges from okay to underwhelming to disastrous. This isn’t the latter, though the non-vocal interlude tracks are no great shakes; described as stitching the album together, they kinda feel like padding to me. Additionally, the contempo R&B vibe is nothing to write home about and there’s definitely weakness in the lyrical department. Color me something other than thrilled. C

Michael Gregory Jackson Clarity Quartet, WHENUFINDITUWILLKNOW (Golden) A participant in the ’70s NYC loft jazz sessions documented on Douglas Records’ Wildflowers series, Jackson released interesting records of his own during the period, but somewhere along the way I lost track of his output as he headed into singer-songwriter rock-R&B terrain. A while back he began returning to the jazz zone, first in the Organic ensemble of Wadada Leo Smith and then with this group featuring Danish counterparts, their work cited as something of a wrap-around to Jackson’s loft days. I can hear it, though the genre variety remains strong. Not everything pleases me equally, but the ’80s-style avant-funk is appreciated and when the band turns up the heat, I dig it even more. Jackson’s playing remains top-flight. B+

The Long Ryders, Psychedelic Country Soul (Omnivore) When the subject turns to either the Paisley Underground of early Alt-country, The Long Ryders have been consistently underappreciated (two 3CD sets released last year by Cherry Red expanding on classic LPs by the band have possibly somewhat reduced this situation). This may not seem like a big deal, but in terms of Americana-rock, an argument can be made that this Los Angeles band invented the stuff (I understand that some may not consider that a positive). Rather than hash out the particulars here, instead let me dish a few words of approval of this vibrant and solid batch of fresh Long Ryders tunes, altogether strong enough to make some new fans while satisfying old ones. As good as the classic stuff? Not quite, but close. CD and digital only. B+

Jessica Pavone, In the Action (Relative Pitch) When I’m presented with a work of solo viola (which is admittedly not that often), my immediate thoughts turn to the Classical, but that’s not what veteran improviser-composer Pavone is up to on this short but striking CD. Experimentation is very much in evidence, with the work stemming from her “interest in the tactile experience and use of the body while creating sounds.” Cool. Of the four pieces, the first’s long, full-bodied, intense tones carried me into the milieu of minimalism, and that’s even cooler. The next selection redirects, combining chord strumming and effects, while the third temporarily sidelines the viola entirely; it’s reminiscent of DIY Industrial noise. The last actually had me thinking of Appalachian bow-pulling, at least until the effects came in. A

President Bongo & Óttar S., Quadrantes (Radio Bongo) This is second in a proposed 24-album series slated to unwind over the next seven years with President Bongo a.k.a. Stephan Stephensen, formerly of the Icelandic electronic outfit GusGus, serving as “producer/ instigator/ writer/ artistic director,” here with assistance by the co-billed Óttar Sæmundsen, a new name to me who’d been part of the group of electronic artist Kippi Kaninus (also from Iceland). Consisting of four 15-minute pieces across two LPs, the contents are a satisfying combination of acoustic-amplified instrumentation (upright bass, violin, guitar) and electronics. Initially, I was hearing something in the neighborhood of neo-classical, but other passages get dancy and there’s even one section devoted to spoken text with an automated vibe. B+

Joe Tossini and Friends, Lady of Mine (Joe Tossini Music / Efficient Space) Even if I hadn’t read the promo notes, it would’ve been clear within seconds that this was a dive into Outsider Music. But checking the PR didn’t adequately prep me for Tossini’s sheer intensity as an old-school romantic; naturally, he’d gravitate to lounge pop. That his record was cut in a Jersey basement in ’88, combining a Casio foundation with a 14-piece band, is why people care about it now. Well, that and commitment and sincerity, both Outsider prerequisites, and Lady of Mine is flush with these qualities. Joe’s ability as a singer is, shall we say, moderate, but he’s never overwrought or off-putting; the real joy of this album is how it keeps throwing pleasurable structural curveballs all the way to the end. B+

V/A, Powder in Space (Beats in Space) Tim Sweeney runs the Beats in Space label, but he’s also hosted a radio show of the same name for 20 years now, and this mix CD, the first in a series, celebrates that airwave anniversary with a 75-minute flow of sharp, smart electronic dance stuff curated by Japan’s DJ Powder (a.k.a. Momoko “Moko” Goto). As someone who tends to favor abstract electronics over the gyrational, I must say that the unexpected twists and consistent avoidance of overplayed tropes make this an absolute delight. Of course, it probably helps that most of these tracks are new to me, but I’ve a suspicion that experts are going to like the overall assemblage. Plus, the two new tracks by Powder are offered on a 12-inch with selections by Daphne and Samo DJ and Hidden Operator on the flip. A-

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