Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for March 2019, Part Four

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones, From Untruth (Northern Spy) Matt Nelson’s soprano sax and Nick Dunston’s upright bass lend this LP a jazzy (and decidedly out-jazzy) component, though it’s augmented by drummer Max Jaffee adding “Electronic Sensory Percussion” to his standard kit and Nelson doubling on Moog. But the focal point is unquestionably vocalist Kidambi, who adds synthesizer and harmonium to four compositions that on this aggregation’s second release cohere into a uniformly superb, at times gripping (and thrilling!) post-category statement. The mention of “futurist realms” rings true. From Untruth also tackles major themes of politics and injustice, but with the intent to give the listener respite from the ugliness of our current reality. Kidambi has succeeded mightily. A

The Underground Youth, Montage Images of Lust & Fear (Fuzz Club) In 2017, this Manchester-born but currently Berlin-based outfit led by vocalist-guitarist Craig Dyer released What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This?, a record that reminded me somewhat of Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe. But this follow-up, the band’s ninth overall, reminds me of Newcombe’s output not at all. Instead, the dark and tense atmosphere makes me think of the Birthday Party, but with instrumental precision (matched with sharp lyrics) that helps the whole to stand apart. Suicide is mentioned by the label, but I thought more of Michael Gira (Swan Kristof Hahn guests on six tracks here) and occasionally of Joy Division. When Dyer shifts to ballads, things get distinguished even more. Borderline excellent. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Mary Lou Williams, S/T (Smithsonian-Folkways) Along with Lucinda Williams’ Happy Woman Blues (reviewed in full earlier in March) this and the Elizabeth Cotten LP below comprise the 2019 Women’s History Month installment in Smithsonian-Folkways’ vinyl reissue series. It’s a well-rounded trio. This record, originally released in 1964 on this great jazz pianist’s Mary label (distributed by Folkways back then) is probably the most underrated of the bunch, in part due to how it transcends category. Though infused with jazz (Percy Heath and Grant Green contribute), the music here, titled Black Christ of the Andes, is a devotional work that features choral sections of considerable scale and beauty, and all the better because it’s a sound almost unheard of today. A major achievement. A

Elizabeth Cotten, Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar (Smithsonian-Folkways) Many folks know this LP as Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes; it’s reissued here under the title of its initial release. The story of Cotten’s life is well-known (it’s recently been told as a children’s book by musician Laura Veirs) and her rediscovery (through the family of Pete Seeger, which accurately was just a discovery, as she’d never recorded previously) commenced one of the most welcome and enduring byproducts of the whole mid-20th century folk revival. Taped by Mike Seeger in Cotton’s bedroom in her Washington, DC home in 1957, this is powerfully intimate music, reminiscent of Mississippi John Hurt in its calmness, featuring guitar, banjo and vocals. For folk music lovers, I’d call this one essential. A

Michelle Blades, Visitor (Midnight Special) The fourth full-length from multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and songwriter Blades is the first I’ve heard, There is a lot going on here and a lot to like. Blades cites David Byrne and Frank Zappa amongst her inspirations, though she sounds like neither, and while she possesses an abundance of range, Visitor doesn’t strike me as eclectic with a capital E (though others might feel differently). That doesn’t mean she not into throwing curveballs, with opener “Politic!” reminding me just a little of the B-52’s. But if that’s not a recurrent vibe, it’s also not misdirection, and this record is serious, ambitious and fun. I also like that the record has weight, and if I wouldn’t call it heavy, there’s an appealing toughness that reminds me of what I like about indie rock. B+

Fennesz, Agora (Touch) The vinyl for this one doesn’t arrive until summer, but the CD and digital are out Friday. As it would be a shame if this 47-minute dose of primo ambient-electronic glide were to slip through the release-schedule cracks, I’ll dish on its worthiness right now. It’s album seven for Christian Fennesz (and the first since 2014’s pair of releases Mahler Remixed and Bécs), and it’s described as a stripped-back affair, having been recorded in his bedroom with minimal equipment (presumably, his trusty guitar and laptop as a baseline) and headphones. Of the four tracks, the second “Rainfall” offers the most intense portion of the journey, though the last, “We Trigger the Sun,” brought to mind Robert Fripp in a way that was so understated that it almost isn’t there. And yet it is. That’s sweet. A

Garcia Peoples, Natural Facts (Beyond Beyond is Beyond) In his cool promo essay for Garcia People’s second album (in a year), Jesse Jarnow states that the music is not a throwback. While taking into consideration that the band’s sound is derived primarily from the late ’60s and especially early ’70s jam-inclined psychedelic rock, I agree. The thing about throwback bands is that they reliably misconstrue mistakes as virtues. That’s not what’s happening on Natural Facts, as things get nicely expansive while maintaining a beneficial tidiness; of the nine tracks here, the number breaking six minutes is zero. Garcia Peoples can stretch out effectively if the mood hits them (see their last record for evidence) but they are even more song-oriented this time out, as the two-guitar attack soars with nary a trace of excess. A-

Mekons, Deserted (Bloodshot) It’s been eight years since the Mekons have released an LP, and it’s great to have them back on wax, even if it falls a little bit short of the heights of their best work. But really, to expect them to deliver record on the level of Fear & Whiskey or The Mekons Rock ‘n Roll (we’ll leave the early punk era out of it) would be unrealistic under the circumstances, though I’m not suggesting it’s beyond them. What they’ve done here is simply work up a solid set of songs, tackle it with vigor and then let the wisdom that comes from maturity elevate the whole. After the requisite number of spins, Deserted coheres into something special, with no traces of the band attempting to retread (or recapture) the magic of those classic records. They’re just back to rolling, and that’s sweet. A-

Mdou Moctar, Ilana (The Creator) (Sahel Sounds) My friend is really into Niger’s Mdou Moctar (he’s seen him live in the States twice), but I mainly know the Tuareg vocalist-guitarist’s work through his track on the 2010 compilation Music from Saharan Cellphones: Volume 1. That song, “Tahoultine,” and his first release Anar (from which the song was culled) are distinct in scale and timbre from his newest release. In 2010, his singing was drenched in autotune (not a problem for me) and the overall ambience was low-tech, though sturdily conceived and highly effective. Contrasting, Moctar’s first true studio recording (per label description) unwinds with the sort of vividness that I associate with the Glitterbeat label’s Tuareg stuff, though the hard rock-friendly guitar boldness is a unique and appealing quality. A-

Pharoah Sanders, Africa (Tidal Waves Music) This was originally released in 1987 on the Dutch label Timeless and was conceived as a tribute to John Coltrane, though it’s an appealingly understated one as only a single tune belongs to Trane; that would be “Naima,” which is given a fine reading. Considering the period and recordings where the two collaborated, you might expect this to be a wild free-blowing fest, but that’s not the case. As “Naima” (the sole non-Sanders original here) might suggest, this is nearer to the sound of the early Classic Quartet; indeed, that’s the configuration of the lineup, with drummer Idris Muhammad, bassist Curtis Lundy, and the great pianist John Hicks joining Sanders for a session with crossover appeal.

While there is some overblowing right away and passages of searching throughout, much of this would be right at home on the bandstand in a club with a two-drink minimum. That’s not a flaw (the fade out on “Speak Low” is, however), but rather an observation; I would’ve gladly bought two drinks to have experienced this lineup live, especially for the chance to soak up Hicks’ playing, which is a joy in any setting I’ve encountered it. The title-track adapts Sanders’ spiritual style to a smaller group than was his norm and is one of the set’s highlights. Expanding to a double LP, this features two bonus tracks previously available on the ’92 Japanese import edition, with “Duo” taking it “out” at a higher level for the finale. Although this falls a smidge short of great, I’d still call it essential for fans of Sanders’ work. B+

T.S.O.L., Dance with Me (Dink) Make no mistake, the later records churned out by this personnel-shifting and style-jumping Los Angelino punk unit seriously stank up the joint, and to the point that for a long time I basically ignored their entire output, including this debut full-length, which is generally considered to be their best. It finds the band briefly perched atop the goth-punk train, with the results often better than decent if not exactly sterling as a whole. Bluntly, in terms of punk’s merger with horror themes, this is a far cry from the Flesh Eaters. The contents of this album, reissued here in a handsome gold foil cover edition, have been compared to the Misfits, but while often goofy, Danzig and company were sincere, and their songs could get stuck in the head for days. Dance with Me comes up short. B

These Beasts, S/T EP (Magnetic Eye) A trio, These Beasts hail from Chicago, which makes sense as the city was a breeding ground for a significant element in their sound. On this six-song EP (offered on limited edition 12-inch vinyl in either “bronze smoke” or “clear/oxblood/ aqua-splatter” vinyl) they deliver a paint-stripping heaviness destined to endear them to extreme contempo metalheads who aren’t already in the know (there’s a prior EP from 2016). This aspect gets blended with late ’80s-early ’90s noise rock, and specifically to my ear the Unsane (who weren’t from Chicago but NYC, but still), mainly through the controlled-shout wail of singer-bassist Todd Fabian. It’s a roaring, thundering, pissed-off thing, and if you still wear your tattered Amphetamine Reptile t-shirts, get in line for this. A-

Uncle Walt’s Band, S/T (Omnivore) A year ago Omnivore released Anthology: Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing…, a CD collection that turned a slew of ears on to the work of Walter Hyatt, David Ball, and Champ Hood, collectively known as Uncle Walt’s Band. Specialists in a sort of folky but urbane proto-Americana, they utilized a two-guitar standup-bass and harmony vocal approach with a focus on original material interspersed with wide-ranging interpretations, and the results encompass everything from country-swing to gypsy jazz to rural blues to flashes of contemporaneous singer-songwriter stuff, and it all goes down easy. Originals apparently go for hundreds. I bet Garrison Keillor owns a copy. Most likely, you don’t. This vinyl reissue is a sensible way to fill that void. A-

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