Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
August 2019, Part Three

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: loscil, Equivalents (Kranky) For his latest, Canadian composer Scott Morgan takes inspiration from a series of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz. The objects in the photos were clouds, but the subject of the series was abstraction, or better said a freeing of the photographed from direct interpretation. Morgan borrows the title of Stieglitz’s series for his 12th LP and its eight tracks, though they are sequenced out of order. If you’re new to the work of loscil, don’t get stuck in the clouds and draw a connection between ambient music and drifting, vaporous insubstantiality, as what Morgan has achieved here is often quite intense and in fact eschews expectations (clichés and stereotypes) over what ambient music sounds like. One could simply call it experimentation, abstract yet focused. Do it. A

Oh Sees, Face Stabber (Castle Face) When I first glimpsed the cover of these San Franciscans’ umpteenth full-length (this one a double), I immediately thought of Frank Frazetta. And it’s indeed credited as being a ’70s van airbrush of Frazetta’s “Swamp Demon.” Recognizing the artist was no great accomplishment on my part; I don’t know Frazetta’s work well, but it is highly distinctive, as anyone who’s seen it is likely to concur. I’m considerably more familiar with the Oh Sees’ steadily growing body of work. Their blend of heavy psych, Krautrock, experimental punk, and in a recent twist, organ-driven prog, is nearly as recognizable as ol’ Frank. And the mention of prog might seem to fit with the cover artist, but it’s never a hackneyed trip. Things even get a little funky. How am I feeling? Pretty fucking fine, my friend. A

Blanck Mass, Animated Violence Mild (Sacred Bones) When an artist I primarily know through another outfit or endeavor has a “solo electronic project,” I can get a little fidgety, mainly because the results can sometimes be, to put it charitably, less than stellar. My knowledge of Benjamin John Power comes via Fuck Buttons, though I’ve known of the existence of Blanck Mass for a while now and have indeed heard them/ him while watching Ben Wheatley’s drug film freakout A Field in England. That didn’t really prepare me for these large-scaled and highly danceable electronic tracks which often stretch out into cinematic territory, and more appropriately hit the emo-rush/ high-five-isms suitable as a soundtrack for live sports/ group catharsis. Well, except for the post-industrial aggro. Which is plentiful. A-

Prana Crafter / Tarotplane, Symbiose (Beyond Beyond is Beyond) As this label is hitting an impressive qualitative stride, here’s a very cool split album with one long track per side featuring two one-man acts. Prana Crafter is William Sol from the woodlands of Washington State and Tarotplane is PJ Dorsey from Baltimore. The stated objective was to platter up some complementary kosmische, and they’ve achieved this goal rather nicely through appreciable levels of edge, intensity, and of course drift and glide. And there is distinctiveness, with Prana Crafter’s “Jagged Mountain Melts at Dawn” sliding in all sorts of directions; a little San Fran, a smidge of Can, some Eastern burn, while Tarotplane’s “We Move Slowly Through the Past” connects in a big long stretch like Popul Vuh crossed with Pompeii-era Floyd. A-

Beth Bombara, Evergreen (Self-released) On her Kickstarter for Evergreen, which looks to be her fourth LP (and my introduction to her stuff), Bombara describes the contents as Americana roots rock. After a few spins, I don’t disagree, but will observe that much of the runtime here reminds me of melodic Heartland rock. You may ask what the difference is, and I’ll admit the distance ain’t that far. But Evergreen feels descended from Springsteen and Petty, or maybe more accurately the generations of bands (and this is a solo record, but also a band effort) influenced by Bruce and Tom.  And Bombara’s singing can bring Chrissie Hynde to my mind, though she’s far from imitative of the lead Pretender. A definite country-rock vibe does get asserted, but there’s more slide guitar than steel guitar. Solid. B+

Devourment, Obscene Majesty (Relapse) Dallas, TX’s death metal kings Devourment have been around since the mid-’90s with all sorts of personnel changes. The LP gets them back to the lineup that released their celebrated 1999 blast of brutality Molesting the Decapitated. That’s drummer Brad Fincher and vocalist Ruben Rosas, whose contribution here is guttural to the extreme (it registers a couple of shades shy of self-parody, though I’m no expert on this style; there might be hundreds of dudes who get this deep and low). While he’s the most distinctive element here, the band does churn and slam forth with precision, making Rosas ultimately just one aspect in the sound. Indeed, just another instrument, as I can’t understand a thing he’s saying. Apparently, there are profanities in tracks 3, 6, 7, and 8. B+

Ikebe Shakedown, Kings Left Behind (Colemine) Celebrating ten years of existence, this funky instrumental outfit, a septet by the evidence of promo snaps, are tight in the manner of such neo old-school funk and soul acts as Budos Band and of course the Dap Kings. That is, they are totally in sync without turning the proceedings into a blatant display of showing-off. They can go up-tempo in a manner fit for parties in clubs or fields (they’ve played Bonnaroo and can imagine they went down a storm), but they are just as inclined toward nifty arrangements. One could even call them cinematic, as they nod to spaghetti Westerns in a non-dud way during “Horses,” largely due to some swell trumpet playing. The intermittent fuzz guitar reminds me a bit of Calibro 35. I also like the symphonic twists. A-

The Lilacs, “The Lilacs Endure” (Pravda) The Chicago-based Lilacs hit the scene back in the early ’90s, with roots in the terrific and oft-overlooked Green. Specifically, Lilac Ken Kurson played bass for that band; on this 4-song return to activity (CD and digital only), former Green drummer John Valley joins original members Kurson and David Levinsky, bassist Steve Poulton and keyboardist Jimmy Matt Rowland for a hearty dose of riffy power pop. If you want added insight into the nature of their sound, Material Issue’s Jim Ellison produced their first 7-inch. Television’s Richard Lloyd is on board here as the EP was cut in Nashville. Not an inch of ground is broken, but the songs are sturdy and catchy, and “Blue Spark” reminds me a bit, ok a lot, of Elvis Costello. “I Saw Her First” is Wavy power pop, like it’s 1980. B+

Claron McFadden, Roberta Alexander, Nancy Braithwaite, Michael Stirling, Vaughan Schlepp, To Paradise for Onions: Songs and Chamber Works of Edith Hemenway (Etcetera) Born in 1926 and still active (she resides in Providence, RI), Hemenway graduated from McGill University (where she attended with her husband Augustus) with a degree in English Literature. She’s also an organist, but this CD spotlights her love of and talent for the classical art song, with 30 pieces composed for poems by W.S. Merwin (two sets), Robert Louis Stevenson and Langston Hughes featuring two sopranos (McFadden and Alexander), clarinet (Braithwaite), cello (Stirling), and piano (Schlepp). I value the poetic connection, and as I prefer smaller ensembles to orchestras, I found the playing sharp and singing quite engaging. A-

Monarch, Beyond the Blue Sky (El Paraiso) Monarch is a five-piece, with their brand of psych rock decidedly West Coast USA, which is fitting given that they hail from San Diego This is their second album, with Two Isles preceding it in 2016. I mention the geography because Monarch can get heavy, but they also like to glide. Beyond the Blue Sky is also not a throwback affair, as they utilize, but don’t become overly reliant upon, synths and electric keyboards and even some saxophone as the tracks unwind. There are vocals, and they are non-toxic, but I can’t deny that I’d prefer Monarch if they elected not to sing, though the title track is an exception. I guess Dommengang are my current Cali psych band to beat. This doesn’t best them, but holds up well, and for heavy rock is totally non-embarrassing. B+

Press Club, Wasted Energy (Hassle) All four members of Press Club are natives of Brunswick, Australia, a suburb of Melbourne, which is where their self-built studio is located. This is their second LP, and the first I’ve heard. Greg Rietwyk plays guitar, Iain MacRae is on bass, Frank Lees handles the drums, and Natalie Foster sings, and she’s a raw belter, but with a keen sense of control. A big part of their sound reminds me of the wave of early indie rock that took some heavy, fleet, emotionally charged cues from Hüsker Dü and Rites of Spring, but with a chunkier rock angle that when intertwined with Foster’s vocals, brought Babes in Toyland and 7 Year Bitch to mind. One song triggered thoughts of The Walkmen, but more prevalent is a beefy anthemic sound that seem appropriate for arenas. B

Bobby Rush, Sitting on Top of the Blues (Deep Rush / Thirty Tigers) I’ll confess that I’ve never completely cozied up to the sound of Bobby Rush. Sure, there have been individual tracks on his long list of LPs that have hit the spot, and there are times, especially with a few drinks under my belt, when his sound can go down like greased oysters, but just as often his blend of shuffles, rockers, and funky grooves, horns sections and harmonica, the uptown and the back porch, doesn’t hit me with the wallop that I’m hoping to receive. Now, part of the problem is my basic persnickety mindset regarding most contempo blues. The raw wildness of the original round of Fat Possum discoveries delivered a haymaker upon me. Most other stuff, I’m sad to say, has not.

And it’s not just recent developments. So much (too much) of the post-Hound Dog Taylor Alligator stable was just far too sophisto for my tastes. But I’m getting far afield of the subject here. When Bobby Rush gets into a zone, as he does in the harp-fueled instrumental “Bobby Rush Shuffle,” he’s a treat. And when he follows it up with the slice of undiluted country blues style “Recipe for Love,” the reverence for his talent (he’s featured in at least two documentary films) is easy for me to understand. These cuts, which comprise this CD’s midsection, hit my sweet spot the best. While I dig the funky guitar in opener “Hey Hey Bobby Rush,” the other stuff is all over the place. “Pooky Poo” makes me smile and has a cool guitar solo, but “Slow Motion” is subpar lovey-dovey junk and “Bowlegged Woman” is a weak closer. B-

Singapore Sling, Killer Classics (Fuzz Club) This Icelandic combo has been active since the turn of the century, with nine albums in their discography; this is the fifth for Fuzz Club. The band name might give you the impression they are tipplers (and they very well could be), but the choice of moniker apparently references a twisted u-ground art film by director Nikos Nikolaidis that I’d like to see. Anyway, the sound on Killer Classics (my intro to the band) features decidedly Suicide-like drumbox rhythmic propulsion; fittingly, the opener is titled “Suicide Twist,” which simultaneously points to an old-school R&R thrust bringing Jesus and Mary Chain to mind. But really, this album just inspires visions of leather: leather jackets, leather pants, leather motorcycle boots, and hey, even the Leather Nun. Fuck yeah. B+

Ummagma, Compass (Leonard Skully) Ummagma is the duo of Canadian Shuana McLarnon and Ukrainian Alexander Kretov, having formed in Moscow a good while back (they are currently based in Ontario). Compass is their third full-length and first in seven years (and first on vinyl), though a pair of EPs came out in 2017, “LCD” and “Winter Tale,” the former with production by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and Curve’s Dean Garcia while A.R. Kane provided remixes to the latter. Kretov recorded and produced (and mixed and mastered) this one at their own studio, the songs co-written and arranged by duo; across the record’s 13 songs, both Kretov and McLarnon sing. The music has been categorized as dream pop, and that’s not wrong, but part of this record’s appeal is that it’s not so easy to pin down.

Opener “Rolling” starts out in a dancy, indeed downright funky zone, complete with lively streams of hand drums (as an outfit very much in the studio realm, those rhythms could be canned, and that’s alright). As the track unwinds, library-like keyboard swells up. But along with this boogie-down impulse, they play around with a fully-fledged ’90s-style Alt pop-rock dynamic that can remind me as much of Too Pure as 4AD. If this makes ‘em sound like a UK-informed scenario, well yeah, especially during the slinky reggae-tinged pop of “Otherwise,” a potentially retrograde deal elevated by cool twists (e.g. the Spanish guitar). The big beat is prevalent, getting nicely combined with guitar strum in “Blown.” Kretov’s singing gets the job done, but it’s McLarnon who shines vocally, especially in standout “High Day.” B+

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