Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 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 May, 2019. Part one is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Wes Montgomery, Back on Indiana Avenue: The Carroll DeCamp Recordings (Resonance) This and the Evans set below are the latest gems from this indefatigable reissue/archival enterprise; both were offered as 2LP sets in April for Record Store Day, and I’m guessing copies are still around, though the 2CD editions are also available now, so if you can’t locate (or don’t want to pay an inflated price) for the wax, the high quality digipaks with booklets are a sensible alternative. And this Montgomery collection, the recordings of which derive from the guitarist’s hometown of Indianapolis sometime in the second half of the ’50s (predating his stellar debut for Riverside), is described as a find with no hyperbole; anyone interested in post-bop jazz guitar will want to check it out.

The emergence of these privately taped studio recordings is directly related to Resonance’s earlier Echoes of Indiana Avenue collection; when that set came out in 2012 the recordings’ origins were a mystery. Now, through the “jazz detective” work of Zev Feldman, we know the answer. Don’t expect Van Gelder-levels of audio richness, but it all sounds fine, offering Wes in a variety of ensemble settings, my faves being the piano quartet that opens disc one and the Nat Cole-styled trio (meaning no drums) featured on disc two. The organ trio grabs me the least, though it’s still quite appealing and leads into a nifty sextet with sax and ‘bone. Knowledgeable ears suggest the additional musicians include organist Melvin Rhyne, pianists John Bunch and Carl Perkins, Wes’ brothers and more. A consistent treat. A

Bill Evans, Evans in England (Resonance) Resonance’s release history with Montgomery is considerable, with Back on Indiana Avenue the fourth collection the label has devoted to the artist. With Evans in England, there is now an equal number of releases in the catalog featuring this pivotal modern jazz pianist, all of them spotlighting his work in the trio format. The first, Bill Evans Live at Art D’Lugoff’s Top of the Gate, came out in 2012 and featured live work from ’68 by the threesome of Evans, bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummer Marty Morell. The next two, 2016’s Some Other Time and the following year’s Another Time, shifted to uncover material from Evans’ short-lived group from earlier in ’68 featuring Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Short-lived and essentially unheard, so it might seem that this return to Gomez and Morell, a lineup which lasted for seven years and became Evans’ most enduring group, is a comparatively less alluring proposition. But as this two-disc set offers performance material from December of 1969 at the club Ronnie Scott’s, the trio’s rapport by this point well-established and allowing for the flights of individual expression that Evans’ required, any assumptions that Evans in England is somehow second-rate are ill-founded. Although captured surreptitiously on a small portable machine by an avid fan, the sound is clean and vibrant (helping matters is that by this point audiences clearly came to Evans gigs for the music) and the sequencing (lacking in any repeat versions) supports maximum listenability. Splendid. A

Caterina Barbieri, Ecstatic Computation (Editions Mego) Grabbed from her website, the PR for Berlin-based Italian composer Barbieri’s second LP (after 2017’s Patterns of Consciousness) portrays an artist with considerable academic laurels “who explores themes related to machine intelligence and object-oriented perception in sound through a focus on minimalism.” This might read as a trip down a formidable lane, but while there are moments here that do cozy up to this assessment, this mostly registers as sweet candy for ears made hungry by the recent upswing in modular synth action. The approach is mathematical but not dry. Indeed, dropping needle pretty much anywhere should get old-school synth mavens into an utter tizzy. That means the whole thing is jake to the max. A

Charger, S/T (Pirates Press Records) The first of three this week from this punk-focused label is described as an aggregation of East Bay-area vets coming together less as an overt punk supergroup maneuver and more for undertaking the simple challenge of getting the pits circling, the fists pumping and the heads banging. Their name is aptly chosen, as they do barrel forth right from the start with a decidedly metallic approach; a ton of influences get cited (ranging from Dio to AC/DC to High on Fire), but the most important one is without a doubt Motörhead. The sharpness of the band’s attack is admirable (suitably raw but not too tight) and they don’t overstay their welcome, but I’m still not especially blown away, mainly because this stylistic development was never my fave. You may feel differently. B

Tanika Charles, The Gumption (Record Kicks) The second LP from Canadian vocalist Tanika Charles reinforces the portrait of the artist as a “soul modernist.” This essentially means she’s approaching classic sounds in a manner that feels fresh in the moment while also bringing something New. The Gumption’s opener “Tell Me Something” establishes Charles’ strength of voice and confidence with old school moves, but there is a recurring sense of surprise along the way that remains focused on a consistent sound; cleanly stroked guitars (rather than horns) are at the forefront. This nicely underlines (and expands the possibilities of) a Motown-ish template and particularly, Charles’ stated influence of The Supremes. The result is a singer distinguishing herself from the pure belters on the scene. A-

Death and Vanilla, Are You a Dreamer? (Fire) This trio of Swedes (from Malmo), extant from the early part of this decade, have alternated “standard” full-lengths (of which this is their third) with the creation of alternate soundtracks for the classic films Vampyr (1932, Carl Theodor Dreyer) and The Tenant (1976, Roman Polanski). It’s all unfurled rather seamlessly, as the group’s modus operandi is the use of vintage musical instruments and gear in the exploration and integration of various complementary “retro” genres, from library music to Krautrock to psychedelia to (fittingly) soundtracks. If you dig Stereolab and Broadcast, you might be formulating a suspicion that Death and Vanilla will fit snugly into your bag. And hey, you’d be right. They haven’t made a bad record yet, and this one strikes me as their best. A-

Dwarfs Of East Agouza / Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt, Electric Smog (Unrock) This one’s intended by Unrock as a twin release to their prior split, Sir Richard Bishop and David Oliphant / Karkhana with Nadah El Shazly’s Carte Blanche, which I awarded a new release pick earlier this year; the contents here are just as deserving of distinction and could’ve made the top spot easy. Dwarfs of East Agouza features Sun City Girl Alan Bishop, Karkhana’s Maurice Louca (his own recent set Elephantine is a beautiful monster and another 2019 new release pick) and Karkhana and Land of Kush’s Sam Shalabi; their side-long piece lands in a sweet spot between Eastern exoticism and a wildly blown horn of freedom. On the flip, the drum-guitar expansionist rock of Corsano and Orcutt continues to amaze. A/ A

Harrington Saints, 1,000 Pounds of Oi! (Pirates Press Records) As a self-described street punk and Oi label, Pirate Press’ release of this LP from “arguably the biggest band” in the subgenre makes total sense. As I’m not exactly well-versed in the ins and outs of contempo Oi, I’ll just take Pirate Press at their word regarding the band’s stature; I’ve no reason to doubt ‘em, particularly as the group tackle the tricky blend of rawness and melodicism that constitutes quality Oi with something approaching aplomb. Again, I must say that this strain of punk isn’t amongst my most appreciated, but when the stuff is done right (e.g. Sham 69, Angelic Upstarts, Cockney Rejects, Menace) it can deliver a sweet kick in the teeth. Harrington Saints aren’t top notch, but they do hold it together for 30 minutes with nary a whiff of the Exploited. B+

Harry Pussy, Ride a Dove (Palilalia) Bill Orcutt can be aptly described as a righteous extender of possibilities for the guitar, both acoustic and plugged-in. Bluntly, we’re lucky to have him. Notably, a lot of innovators’ early musical activities, which regularly transpired in bands of a garage comportment, are enlightening and enjoyable but far from essential. Orcutt’s is a notable exception. Harry Pussy wasn’t a garage band but a ’90s noise outfit, and on this, their somewhat notorious second album, they consisted of Orcutt and Mark Feehan on guitars and Adris Hoyos on drums and vocalizations, i.e. screams, often of the bloodcurdling variety. Harry Pussy circa their debut record (reissued a few years back by Superior Viaduct) had connections to noise rock. This follow-up decidedly does not.

However, there are some ties to what came before. The male shouts of anguish here remind me more than a bit of Negative Approach’s John Brannon, so the connection to ’80s hardcore remains, even if it’s now implicit (Tom Carter’s PR notes also mention that the record’s title is a riff on Black Flag’s “Rise Above”) But what the male bellering really highlights, when considered alongside Hoyos’ exclamations, is Ride a Dove’s stature as a break-up record. Carter mentions Rumours, and as this uncompromising blitz of noise unravels, that actually makes sense, though that doesn’t mean most Fleetwood Mac fans are going to dig this (the ones who own a few Keiji Haino records, sure). The reality is most Sonic Youth fans didn’t like this. At all. It’s not a record to spin for shits and giggles, but it’s very, very necessary. A

Bobby Oroza, This Love (Big Crown) The Helsinki-born Oroza sings with impeccable smoothness. For a lot of soulsters, accentuating this strength would be their main objective, but This Love slides right into Big Crown’s neo-soul modus operandi without a hitch; it’s a sound that’s wholeheartedly classique, though these dozen tracks got that way in a manner distinct from the label’s usual NYC-centric in-house production approach. Cut at Timmion Records with that label’s studio band Cold Diamond & Mink (with arrangements and a little flute from Jimi Tenor), this is drum-tight with nary a disappointing cut in the bunch, hitting a sustained sweet spot between unperturbed ’60s soul moxie and ’70s panache with just the right touch of funkiness. Beyond Oroza’s voice, the rhythms alone make this one a total winner. A-

Orphan Goggles / Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O, “Hey Bud, How’s Your Blood?” b/w “From Planet Orb with Love Part 1” (Whiteworm) Orphan Goggles are from Los Angeles, and based totally on their side of this split 7-inch, they specialize in a strain of noise rock with theatrical vocals; overall, it had me thinking of stuff I recall digging on labels like Skin Graft, Troubleman Unlimited, and Ipecac, and that’s cool. Orphan Goggles share this record with a spacy Japanese psych unit of unexpected longevity; their track, which features a hard quick fadeout (the better to fit onto a 45, a format that doesn’t exactly flaunt this band’s strongest attributes), isn’t going to go down as one of Acid Mothers Temple’s shining moments, but I’m glad I’ve heard it. Very glad, in fact. On red wax. B+/ B+

Charlemagne Palestine x Rrose, The Goldennn Meeenn + Sheenn (Eaux) Rrose is the latest incarnation of London-based Californian interdisciplinary artist Seth Horvitz, who is credited by Eaux with subverting performance “while pursuing a delicately designed and essentially queered techno.” As a Minimalist composer, experimentalist, and drone master, Charlemagne Palestine is one of the avant-garde’s leading lights. While the roots of this collab span back a decade, last year Palestine picked Rrose as second pianist for a new rendition of his 1976 piece “The Golden Mean” for the Festival Variations in Nantes. Offered on wax as two side-long parts, the results are mesmerizing, in large part through the slightly out-of-synch dialogue (to paraphrase Palestine) that’s established by the two pianos. A

Pixel Grip, Heavy Handed (Feeltrip) Chicago’s Pixel Grip have been described as a trio of synth punks, though I think they are better categorized as a synthpop unit. This is not to suggest their music is devoid of edge and spark, it’s just that there’s more attention to song crafting than to honing a sound that flies forth with wild abandon; to elaborate, when I think of synth punk my thoughts often revolve around L.A.’s Screamers, France’s Metal Urbain, and more recently a few of the signings to the Cali-based Felte label. When I think of synthpop, I can bring to mind all sorts of things, much of the imagery not pleasant, though if I want to focus on the positive, Pixel Grip can fit the bill, mainly because they seem to value artiness over sheen. Not earth-shattering, but well-assembled, which is essential to this sorta thing. B+

The Ramoms, “Gritty is a Punk” + “Boogies Not Snot” b/w “Rockaway Beach” (Pirates Press Records) This Philadelphia-based Ramones-inspired four-piece (all women and all moms) revamp “Judy is a Punk” as an ode to the Flyers hockey club’s new mascot Gritty (who has built up quite a following and inspired more than a couple serious think pieces on the internet). It goes down more than okay, mainly because it’s as energetic as it should be, and the guitars are set to burn. Up next, “Boogies Not Snot” survives its kiddie punk alteration of “Blitzkrieg Bop” (“all stuffed up and ready to blow,” heh) but the real winner is the flip’s straight cover. Of course, in 2019 this is about as essential as a pocket watch, but I just played the damned thing six straight times with no loss in panache. What else do you want from a 7-inch? B+

Jo Schornikow, Secret Weapon (Keeled Scales) Schornikow is an Aussie songwriter working here in a sort of scaled-down (as opposed to merely lo-fi) mode that mingles a big helping of breathy-voiced dream pop with a little bit of cited shoegaze and ambient experimental influences; what I’m primarily hearing across this short 9-song LP is her aptitude as a pop vocalist, though her background goes a bit deeper. Folks might know her as a member of Phosphorescent, but before that she was working NYC as a pianist, accompanying (amongst others) Hugh Jackman; she also cut an EP with King Creosote and played with The National. All this experience doesn’t really shine through on Secret Weapon, but it does explain why it’s a good bit deeper than the standard bedroom pop thing. Quick, but worthwhile. B+

The Schramms, Omnidirectional (Bar/None) Longtime fans of The Schramms know that there is only one Schramm in the band; that would be frontman-guitarist-writer Dave; drummer Ron Metz and bassist Al Greller round-out the group. Schramms fans will also know that the outfit’s namesake was an original member of Yo La Tengo, and that this crew hasn’t released an album in a decade. Newbies hopeful for something in the zone of Ira, Georgia and James should brace themselves for a broad and ultimately rewarding experience in terms of both expert songwriting and instrumental adeptness. Overall, the fittingly titled Omnidirectional delivers guitar pop of uncommon intelligence, so smart in fact that I’m tempted to call it art-pop. But hey, there’s not a trace of quirk to be heard. And that’s just fine. A-

Carlton Jumel Smith, 1634 Lexington Avenue (Timmion) So if grabbing the Oroza record above inspires an insatiable thirst for more, this set should deliver some solid, if temporary, quenching. Featuring Cold Diamond & Mink and released on Timmion Records proper (home of the extraordinary singer Nicole Willis and another ace instrumental unit, the Soul Investigators), Smith pulls it all together with verve at the mic; notable for a debut (though it’s clear he’s absorbed experience), he never strains to impress. His comfort zone is late ’60s-early ’70s testifying and uplift, and if the whole is solidly in the neo-soul zone, right off the bat in “Woman You Made Me” the band drops a wickedly heavy beat that makes clear the proceedings are cognizant of hip-hop’s innovations (but without morphing into a hybrid). A-

The Spellcasters, Music from the Anacostia Delta (Cuneiform) A recording, partially captured live at Washington DC’s Rhizome, that will have guitar lovers, and especially those fond of the Fender Telecaster, tickled as pink as that legendary panther. The lineup features three DC-area slingers, Joel Harrison, Dave Chappell, and Anthony Pirog, with acoustic and electric bass from John Previti and drums from Barry Hart. With thirty highly capable digits, you might be thinking this CD is poised on the precipice of twang insanity, but no; ‘tis a nicely relaxed affair dedicated to the Telecaster’s ability (in the right hands) to transform songs (six from varied sources plus five originals from all three guitarists) and then accent them with the right level of heightened acumen.

That means the set never falters into the merely show-offish, which makes sense as the project began and to an extent remains a tribute to Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan, two cult guitarists associated with the Telecaster and also the DC region. The record’s title smartly underscores this connection by not placing too much emphasis on Gatton (two of his lesser-known tunes are covered) and Buchanan (they close with “Sweet Dreams,” a song Roy played often); this allows the individual players to stake out their own territory (a distinct angle that extends to the CD as a whole) as the case is made for a specific blend of “jazz, rockabilly, R&B, country, and rock ’n’ roll” as an indigenous music of the cited region that sits up tall next to bluegrass, go-go, and harDCore. Overall, a nicely multifaceted thing. A-

Versus, “Ex Nihilo” (Ernest Jenning Record Co.) The label PR for the latest return to activity by this esteemed ’90s indie outfit takes a refreshing avenue by detailing the band’s relationship to the Extended Play record, which Ernest Jenning classifies as the “wicked stepchild of music formats.” Indeed, Versus excelled at the short form (see the terrific comp Dead Leaves for evidence), and rather than leave that aspect of their history behind in an era where the terms “single” and “EP” too often equate to “digital-only,” the Baluyut brothers (Richard, Edward and James) and Fontaine Toups bring a 4-song effort on wax that’ll sit sweetly beside “Deep Red,” “Afterglow” and “Shangri-La” (though the last two were CD-only). Versus’ early 45s were immediate grabbers, but these cuts are savvy growers. A-

Jan St. Werner, Glottal Wolpertinger (Fiepblatter Catalogue #6) (Thrill Jockey) The sixth entry in the Fiepblatter Catalogue series finds St. Werner (of Mouse on Mars and academic pursuits at MIT and the Academy of Fine Arts, Nuremburg) in as potent an experimental electronic zone as ever. This one’s vinyl-only (#5 was exclusive to CD) and was initially a radio instillation for documenta 14, the “world’s most renowned event for contemporary arts,” a multiweek shindig held once every five years in Kassel, Germany that’s like a Cannes (or Venice) Film Fest for Artforum subscribers. The installation long over (part of this set seems to be its live-in-Athens finale), this LP is its next incarnation; featuring The National’s Aaron & Bryce Dessner on guitars, it’s as inviting as it is occasionally severe. That’s sweet. A-

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