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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Fea, No Novelties (Blackheart) Hailing from San Antonio, TX, Fea is Latina punk with ties highlighting the band’s relationship to the style’s classicism; specifically, No Novelties is released on Joan Jett’s label with production by Alice Bag (Iggy Pop is also a fan). The music has been compared to Bikini Kill and The Gossip, and yeah, as this LP unwinds it does implant into the brain a similarity to the gal side of the ’90s-’00s Kill Rock Stars shebang (Riot Grrl central, essentially), but Fea has also been likened to Priests, which is nice shorthand in expressing that the band effectively carries this sound and screamingly relevant perspective into the present rather than just delivering a carbon copy. For example, Fea’s music is bilingual, and that’s fucking great. “Pelo Suelto” kicks major ass. A-

Juliana Hatfield, Sings The Police (American Laundromat) Although I do like some of their songs, mostly early stuff, I’ve no special esteem for The Police. In fact, in my personal hierarchy, I value Juliana Hatfield a whole lot more, in part because Blake Babies were an often-terrific band. So, you might think this tribute project (obviously, she holds a much higher opinion of The Police) would be somewhat up my alley. But I’ll confess that tributes of this stripe only pull my chain on occasion; I mean, I’ve yet to even listen to Hatfield’s prior set doffing the hat to Olivia Newton-John. But that’s also because my interest in ON-J is basically nil. What can I say, I can be a fickle motherfucker sometimes. All this didn’t bode particularly well for this album of interpretations of tunes by Sting, Summers and Copeland.

Well, Hatfield emerges creatively victorious, for a variety of reasons. First off, her long-extant likability has diminished not even a little. She’s in strong voice and is clearly engaged with the concept (as she should be, as she initiated it), but Hatfield also plays nearly everything herself, which works in relation to a production style that is both stripped-down and vivid. The way her tough guitar sound mingles with the choice of occasionally rudimentary drum programming and additional modest tech is also a plus. All this counteracts a frequent problem with The Police’s later stuff, which is that even when the songs were okay (or a little better) the whole ultimately reeked like bags of money. In contrast, Hatfield’s Sings the Police registers as an act of love thriving on inspiration rather than inflated or propped up by cash.

We’re nearer to the spirit of The Police’s initial handful of singles and Outlandos d’Amour, and that’s swell. Other smart decisions: Hatfield stays fairly close structurally to the sturdier of the band’s songs (like “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da”) while giving others a punky kick in the pants (“Murder By Numbers”). She also doesn’t simply up the reggae quotient, which would frankly be a pretty lazy thing to do. But maybe her most unlikely achievements are in revitalizing overplayed warhorses “Roxanne” (a true highlight here) and “Every Breath You Take,” and back-to-back, even. Amongst all this success, I can even forgive a few spots that remind me of Sheryl Crow. Hey, maybe I should check out that Newton-John thing after all. A-

Afuma, Songs from the Shore (Blank Forms) Afuma is Stefan Tcherepnin on baritone guitar, the Sonica (a lute shaped synthesizer), and vocals, Taketo Shimada on lap steel, the shehnai (an Indian double-reed instrument) and vocals, and David Silver on drums and vocals. Their debut delivers a potent psychedelic brew that steers far clear of standard expansiveness as it resists pigeonholing. Tokyo-born Shimada has worked with Henry Flynt (and has lived with crucial Beat Generation figure Herbert Huncke), while fourth-generation composer Tcherepnin played piano on his teacher Maryanne Amacher’s Petra, issued by Blank Forms earlier this year. All this might suggest avant happenings, but the record culminates in a surprising ’80s-style anti-social weird-punk place. Cool. With a cover painting by Bobby Beausoleil. A-

Amulets, Between the Distant and Remote (Beacon Sound) Via tape loops, guitar, field recordings and electronic processing, Randall Taylor creates some primo drift and with plenty of edge and a few sustained passages with beaucoup amp grease. More frequently, Taylor dives into a sorta post-kosmische zone and then either gradually sets the controls to stun or just lets it ride, gathering depth along the way. Having moved to Portland, OR from Austin, TX last year, this is his first for Beacon Sound, who describe it as his best, but of course they’d say that. Thing is, he has a certifiable ass-ton of prior releases, mostly on cassette, and it pains me that I’ll probably die without hearing them all. Even with very little exposure to his stuff, this connects a few cuts above the instrumental soundscape pack. A-

Beautiful Dudes, Radio (Mama Bird Recording Co.) Tom Bevitori (guitar, vocals), Robbie Landsburg (guitar), Art Echternacht (bass), and Zach Peach (drums) are the Beautiful Dudes, and this is their second album, recorded and mastered by Tim Green. This is my first taste of their sound however, and I’m digging the big riffs and rhythmic heft, i.e. rock, as applied to songs with a catchy, can I say Californ-I-A thrust, at times quite a bit reminiscent of ’65-’66 Brian Wilson. It’s a recipe that can conjure thoughts of The Ramones, though the Dudes flex a more trad-rock set of muscles without falling down the tunnel of overzealous head-wagging. The band’s moniker might also trigger visions of the kind of outfit indulging in highly calculated “good times,” but at least here the songs are serious, and that’s a big plus. B+

Gabriel Birnbaum, Not Alone (Arrowhawk) You may know Gabriel Birnbaum from Wilder Maker, for it is he who writes the songs, sings and plays multiple instruments in that band. But a band Wilder Maker is, never registering as ALL Birnbaum (far from it), and that’s the most immediate difference on display with Not Alone, even as he gets some help from Will Graefe, Jason Nazary, and bandmate Adam Brisbin. That others are involved situates this set as belonging to the “classic” solo LP tradition (rather than one man and his overdubs), and specifically, singer-songwriter. Birnbaum’s not just throwing back though, as a mobile phone is a major lyrical component in the opening title track. Altogether, this is a fine mix of city and roots that occasionally brings Dylan to mind, and even Bill Callahan. That’s high praise. A-

Brainstory, Buck (Big Crown) This Rialto, CA trio featuring brothers Kevin and Tony Martin and their spiritual sibling Eric Hagstrom released a 45 on Big Crown earlier this year that spread the word on their general sonic thrust (prior material was self-released); unsurprisingly, the main ingredient is soul, but they dive into the style in a manner distinct from their label cohorts (although they did jet east to work with Big Crown co-founder Leon Michels as producer). As heard on the 45 (both songs are included here) there remains an increasingly subtle touch of mellow psych in these grooves (well, maybe not so subtle in “Lucid Dream” and closer “Thank You”), but more dominant is an ability to be both laid-back and forceful in a way that’s tangibly Californian. The playing is sharp, the harmonies are bold. B+

Edith Crash, Frenzy (Stormy Wave) Crash was born in France, raised in Spain and currently resides in Los Angeles (she sings in all three languages); with Frenzy, she’s releasing her fourth album but the first to impact my consciousness, and after time spent I’m absorbing her thing as residing in electro-goth territory. To expand further, she cites Portishead, Sisters of Mercy, and Dead Can Dance as prime influences, and she’s co-producing the record with Jeff Burner of Psychic TV (her former producer Alain Johannes plays on two tracks). Everything here goes down okay, but I’m kinda partial to the husky-throated Zep III folky slide-blues action of “Running,” where Crash goes it alone, playing the guitar, drums and singing. A little bit of stretching out into rockish realms goes a long way. B+

Terry Datsun, Fable of the Seas (Fabyl) Datsun lands smackdab at the crossroads of melodic rock and singer-songwriter-ism. The artist says it’s “Heartfelt music ripped from the back seat of 70’s Dodge Challenger, caught by the Summer breeze and laid to rest on a quiet beach by the sea,” and hey, I can get with that, but will add that the muscle car reference might obscure just how smart Datsun’s songs can be (not that being into street rods is in opposition to smartness, okay?). The vibe/ era I’m increasingly hearing is the mid-’80s-mid-’90s, when established, often cult singer-songwriters would get their approach revamped, sometimes by younger producers and just as often by their own devices, e.g. Robbie Robertson, T-Bone Burnett, Leonard Cohen. I’d say that’s good company to be in. B+

Glimmermen, Here I Stand (Greyslate) I gave this band’s debut I’m Dead a whopper of a long review at this very website in 2013. Since, they’ve issued Breakin’ Out, which received a shorter write-up in this column in ’16, and now here’s their third. Regarding the first, I compared it to Mission of Burma and even Minutemen, but there was also a similarity to Wash DC post-hardcore (J Robbins produced) that Breakin’ Out expanded on by leaning into the sound of Beauty Pill. They also added horns (growing from a trio to a five-piece) without detriment, and the positivity continues here as the resemblance to Beauty Pill remains but is significantly lessened as the band manages to engage with a more straightforward melodic rock approach without sinking into the retrograde. That’s no small feat. Vinyl with DL only. A-

Pat Irwin & J. Walter Hawkes, Wide Open Sky (Self-released) Guitarist Pat Irwin was a member of Eight Eyed Spy and The Raybeats and for a few decades toured with the B-52s. Trombonist Hawkes has recorded with Norah Jones, Elvis Costello and others. Both are composers with a load of TV work and an overlapping inclination for kid’s shows and cartoons. This is their first collab, and it comes with guiding descriptions emphasizing their combined scoring endeavors, but what impresses me is how it avoids clichéd/ trite soundtrack-ish moves. This is kinda plainly because they are legit composers rather than rockers thinking it’d be cool to sound like Morricone. Also, this inspired, succinct and jazzy CD is quite varied, including nods to Kraftwerk, video game music and a swank interpretation of “Apache.” A-

Kid Acne, Have a Word (Lex) Sheffield, England’s Kid Acne is an emcee fitting pretty securely into the alternative/ underground hip-hop continuum, and like some of his cohorts he’s an adept visual artist with an emphasis on illustration and printmaking. Going way back to the late ’90s he was part of Mongrels, an alliance with DJ Benjamin, with this duo making sporadic upsurges into the daylight (most recently in 2015-’18) as Kid Acne’s solo discography has accumulated. Have a Word is the first by his lonesome in a while (like, 2007 in fact). I’ll confess that I was introduced to Kid Acne’s work through the 2018 Mongrels joint “Over Eggin’ It” (a version of which featured Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods), a 45 that was reviewed in this space and led me to check out prior Mongrels and Kid Acne material.

Here, our emcee teams with Chicago producer Spectacular Diagnostics to consistently positive result, with a smattering (not an OD) of guests, namely Juice Aleem, Juga-Naut (who was on the flip of “Over Eggin’ It”) and notably the two halves of ’90s NYC outfit New Kingdom, with Nosaj and Sebastian appearing separately and then together on closing track “Ancient Sea Kings.” Like a lot of alt/ u-ground hip-hop stuff, this has roots in the style’s ’90s heyday, but where others used that foundation to conjure a formidable atmosphere, or at least spra forth some wild linguistic gymnastics, this LP (which really benefits from standard album length) is pretty inviting, though I’d never call it laidback. Kid Acne can also drop a stream of references without coming off like a rap scene Dennis Miller, and that sweet. A-

Aaron Semer, Cape Disappointment (Pastures of Plenty) Seattle’s Aaron Semer can be roughly categorized as tapping the folk (both old school and indie) and Americana genres, though on his second full-length (and the first I’ve heard) he certainly isn’t playing it safe by navigating into a comfort zone at the intersection of those two styles. Opener “A God That’s All Ours” elects instead for grandeur that’s appropriate for the subject matter but that would likely grow tiresome in extended doses, so he downshifts into the following rock-tinged strummer “Bones for the Catacombs” and from there varies his approach while tightening the focus. Semer can get political without sounding callow while his personal stuff is sincere but not overwrought, which for a “midlife crisis” LP is an accomplishment. B+

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