Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for April 2019, Part One

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Viking Moses, Cruel Child (Epifo) I’ve long known Viking Moses, which is the performance moniker/ band name of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brendon Massei, through his track on The Golden Apples of the Sun, a 2004 various artists CD compiled by Davendra Banhart for the Bastet imprint of the free magazine Arthur. I love that release, but Viking Moses is one of the handful of contributors who I never made a deeper acquaintance with…until now. Where Golden Apples was a vessel of freak folk and shades of New Weird activity (the Viking Moses track was submerged smack dab in it like a celery stalk in a bowl of organic peanut butter), Cruel Child reminds me more of Bill Callahan but with some cool twists, like the poppy “Headstrong.” Pretty terrific, overall. A-

Lee Fields & the Expressions, It Rains Love (Big Crown) The fifth release by Lee Fields & the Expressions and the second for Big Crown doesn’t disappoint. Like 2017’s fantastic Special Night, it benefits from the production of Big Crown honcho Leon Michels, himself a musician crucial to the old school funk and soul scene where Fields is a prime torch carrier, especially since the passing of Charles Bradley. That means folks who discovered Bradley through his cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” or are just into the Daptone sound in general (exemplified by Sharon Jones) who haven’t hipped themselves to the Big Crown roster should rectify that lack right quick. A congruence with hip-hop has been mentioned in relation to Fields’ work, but it’s either implicit stylistically or appealingly subtle. A stone winner. A-

Stewart A. Staples, Music for ‘High Life’ (Milan) Let’s go way back; in an earlier era, soundtracks used to function (well, it was one function, anyway) as a sort memory enhancement of a film that, once it exited movie theaters, was effectively gone outside of TV reruns or a cinematic rerelease. Today, scores can help to promote a film in a crowded artistic landscape, especially when they are by musicians with a substantial rep outside the cinematic scene, which is the case here with Stuart A. Staples, who’s known for his work with the group Tindersticks. Celebrity film scoring can occasionally seem like a deliberate maneuver on the part of a director and/ or producers, but that’s not the case here, as Staples (either with Tindersticks or on his own) and High Life’s auteur Claire Denis have worked together extensively.

At this point, purely in terms of name association for cinephiles, their collab is reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work with Jonny Greenwood, and the results have been quite worthwhile across a variety of genres, though this one, a movie set in outer space, stands out a more than a little bit. Just a smidge over an hour long, Staples’ score is appropriately moody/ atmospheric (with one late song exception, “Willow,” which features vocals by the movie’s lead actor Robert Pattinson) and successfully establishes tension. In “Rape of Boyse,” this tension gets released at a level of intensity suggesting something nearer to Alien than Solaris. Or perhaps a sweet blend of space thriller and sci-fi art-film, the possibility supported by the brief accompanying synopsis. It’s a cinch that I’ll be checking it out. A-

Bella Novela, Incinerate (Self-released) Hailing from Long Beach, CA, this trio featuring Jackie Laws (vocals, keys), Jacob Heath (guitars, bass), and Jannea McClure (drums, percussion) is now four albums deep, and they sound like it. Incinerate, which is out digitally 4/5 and on CD the next day (coinciding with a release party at Alex’s Bar in their home burg), with a vinyl release date TBD, comes to me described as the “lady rage record of the year.” That could’ve meant a whole lot of generic ranting, but while brawny and raw and fleet, Bella Novella have a way with pop-rock hooks that reminds me of late ’70s action from their home turf, power-poppy but anthemic in a punk rock way (with emphasis on rock). There are metal touches, too. I don’t dig everything here equally, but what grabs me grabs me good. B+

David Berkman Sextet, Six of One (Palmetto) Pianist Berkman excels at composing with two- and three-horn lineups in mind. Returning from his prior release Old and New Friends are saxophonists Dayna Stephens, Adam Kolker, and Billy Drewes, all doubling on non-sax woodwinds. Bassist Chris Lightcap and drummer Kenneth Salters fill out the core group, while saxophonist Tim Armacost and percussionist Rogerio Boccato guest. As Berkman uses the term straight-ahead in his track notes, it’s fair to say that much of this recording is exactly that (there’s even a classic-styled ballad), though it’s not marinating in the conservative; “Cynical Episode” (not Sam Rivers’ tune) has Stephens productively soloing on EWI (the Electronic Wind Instrument). Lots of good blowing of course, and the piano is solid throughout. A-

Datura4, Blessed is the Boogie (Alive Naturalsound) Based in Fremantle in Western Australia, Datura4 is fronted by Dom Mariani, whom some may know from his ’80s band the Stems and later, DM3 and the Someloves, groups specializing in garage and power pop in that order, but on their third full-length, Datura4 blast out unrepentant head-down boogie-blues rock. The influence of such heavy Aussies as Coloured Balls, the Aztecs, and later Masters Apprentices has been cited, but if you don’t know those bands, suffice to say that if you pine for a plate of Humble Pie seasoned with a little early Bad Company, this will leave you wholly satisfied. As I haven’t exactly been yearning for such a dish, my response is considerably more muted, though after consumption, I’m neither overstuffed nor underfed. Okay. B

Drunken Prayer, Cordelia, Elsewhere (Deer Lodge) Morgan Geer is Drunker Prayer. Folks may recognize his birth name through contributions to Handsome Family and Freakwater. Though he plays some keyboards here, Geer’s primary instruments are guitar and vocals, and the ten songs display considerable range in what can be fairly assessed as the sound of Southern roots. The Band gets mentioned as an immediate comparison, and while I heard them in opener “Into the Water,” there are other aspects more worthy of mention. The introspective country-tinged “Rubble and Dust” reminded me a bit of Paul Burch, but it’s the Southern pop-rock ’80s style (Mitch Easter mixed) that really makes this baby special. If you’ve ever proudly sported a DB Records t-shirt, you’ll want to check this out. A-

Foie Gras, “Holy Hell” (Yellow Year) Foie Gras is the performance-recording moniker of this Bay Area “dronescapist turned pop” armed with a guitar and a desire to mingle Brian Eno and Patsy Cline. Absorbing this info, I expected something a little different from this EP. Exactly what was going to transpire was a mystery, but I wasn’t really thinking of danceable electro-pop, which is opener “Psychic Sobriety” in a nutshell. It’s also more than just that. After a cut with a lyric recalling a certain Joe Cocker ballad (thankfully, the similarity ends there), the sweet combo-punch of “Red Moon” and “Hate Fantasy” finds Foie Gras building upon the first track’s foundation to highly rewarding result. Closer “Latex Sun (For Una)” is dream-poppy with a stronger ’60s pop connection than is the norm. A-

Isasa, Insilio (La Castanya) Conrado Isasa is a Spanish guitarist with roots in the American Primitive. With that, some might be sighing and/or rolling their eyes and then muttering sarcastically, “great…another one.” Well, my retort to this hypothetical is that across his third record (and my intro to his work), Isasa is far from just one more fingerpicker in the field, he’s in the neighborhood of the best on the contempo scene. Actually, let me clarify this review’s first sentence. The roots of this album are in the American Primitive, but Isasa started out playing hardcore (in Down for the Count) and then post-HC/ math rock (A Room with a View). None of this background is explicitly tangible as Insilio plays, though it does help to illuminate why his track “Copla para John Fahey” completely bypasses mimicry as tribute. Superb. A-

Jakuzi, Hata Payı (City Slang) This is the second album by these Turkish synth-poppers, a four-piece I do believe, who made something of a splash in 2017 when City Slang released a wider LP/ CD /digital edition of their debut cassette Fantezi Müzik. For those curious about the nature of this record’s Turkishness, it essentially comes down to the vocals of frontman Kutay Soyocak, which are indeed in his native language, a total positive. Shorn of the singing, Hata Payı could be from anywhere; if you’re looking for a wild style mélange (a la Gaye Su Akyol, say), you’ll be disappointed, but on the other hand, that this could be from anyplace (instrumentally) means it holds up well next to the better neo-synthpop that I’ve heard. I don’t need to understand the lyrics to know these are honest-to-goodness songs. B+

Le Rex, Escape of the Fire Ants (Cuneiform) While I try to catch all of Cuneiform’s offerings, I haven’t heard Swiss brass band Le Rex’s prior release for the label, Wild Man from 2015 (there are two efforts predating their association with the long-serving Silver Spring, MD imprint). Moments on this CD certainly remind me of New Orleans (Marc Unternährer’s tuba makes that basically inevitable), but a high number of passages relating directly to the superb soloing of trombonist Andreas Tschopp and saxophonists Benedikt Reising (alto) and Marc Stucki (tenor) do not; expressive drummer Rico Baumann completes the band. Just as important are the compositions, jazzy and of consistently high quality throughout. Finally, at nearly 70 minutes, there’s a lot of goodness (and beneficially, range) here. A-

Jimbo Mathus, Incinerator (Big Legal Mess) Although he has a ton of solo records and has contributed to scenarios ranging from Johnny Vomit and the Dry Heaves (with Eric Oblivian) to backing Buddy Guy, Jimbo Mathus is probably still best-known as a co-founder of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. But for his latest, the man continues to move far afield of that group’s (synopsized) hot jazz sensibility, switching from guitar to piano and welcoming guests Lilly Hiatt, Andrew Bird, and Kevin Russell. The Band gets cited as a point of reference for a few of Incinerator’s tunes, and I can surely hear this, but there’s a whole lot of variety, from swampy blues with nicely gnarly guitar to stabs at country ambience to a track merging bruised-soul testifying with early ’70s-style cinematic symphonics (a la Isaac Hayes). That’s snappy. A-

Nummer, “Space Oddities Vol. 1” (Butter Sessions) Featuring deep house and IDM-inspired stuff from a French duo (that’d be Silvère Letellier and Emmanuel Corre) released on a Melbourne, Australia-based label, this 5-song EP, in total just shy of 34 minutes, is of consistent interest, foremost through an avoidance of falling back onto standard moves. Don’t get me wrong, the expected ambience and forward thrust is here, but so are a few elements that help this to stand out a bit. First is the presence of what Butter Sessions calls “odd samples,” additives that seem derived from visual narrative sources employed in a way that never becomes gimmicky. Second is the overall warmth of the record, an aspect that could come down to their use of organic percussion. I’m intrigued to hear more from Nummer. B+

The Suitcase Junket, Mean Dog, Trampoline (Signature Sounds) Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Lorenz’s prior efforts are described as self-recorded and “homespun.” Here, he enlists noted Los Angelino Steve Berlin (The Blasters, The Flesh Eaters, Los Lobos) as producer, Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr.) as engineer and Vance Powell (Jack White) as mixer on a set of tunes that while certainly inclined toward the cited stylistic reference points of folk, blues (think Americana), and psych-rock don’t obscure his singer-songwriter baseline. Had Lorenz and his crew desired, whole big chunks of this record could’ve been crafted in a mode reminiscent of ’80s melodic rock leaning into power-pop. Portions of the finished LP flirt with this sound and I like those moments best. B

V/A, Velvet Desert Music Vol. 1 (Kompakt) Bluntly, most labels struggle to get one comp series reliably right, but with this inaugural volume, Kompakt is setting their sights on three. Compiled by Jörg Burger (a name some will recognize through his work with Burger/Ink), the stated intention is to combine “elements of rock, folk, country, surf, krautrock and psychedelic in contemporary electronic music,” which to be just as direct, is a dangerous ambition, at least for me, as I tend to prefer my electronic stuff to be stylistically straight-up. Another explicit goal was to craft a listening experience that suggested the work of one group; partly through recurring vocals (male and female), the comp succeeds in this objective and by extension makes for a satisfying 75 minutes on CD and 2LP with download. A-

Visible Cloaks, Yoshio Ojima & Satsuki Shibano, FRKWYS Vol. 15: serenitatem (RVNG Intl.) The FRKWYS series offers studio collabs between artists with some connection to electronic music (though not exclusively), often in duo situations, but as is the case here, trios (and larger scenarios) aren’t unusual. Consistent is the cross-section of generations and scenes; here, the Portland, OR duo Visible Cloaks (Spencer Doran and Ryan Carlile) connect with Japanese ambient-environmental composer Ojima and pianist Shibano, a pair with a prior history of collaboration. As is the case with the FRKWYS volumes in general, this exceeds my expectations (which are getting pretty high). Folks looking for a contempo complement to Light in the Attic’s recent Kankyō Ongaku comp might want to check this baby out. A-

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