Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January, 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Breathless, The Glass Bead Game (1972) The band name derives from Jean-Luc Godard, the album title from a novel by Hermann Hesse, and the music is amongst the more underrated post-punk of the 1980s, with this their debut from 1986. Breathless singer-keyboardist Dominic Appleton is perhaps best known for his participation in This Mortal Coil, though if you recognize him through that contribution, it’s quite likely you know his work in tandem with bassist Ari Neufeld, guitarist Gary Mundi, and Tristram Latimer Sayer. They apparently sometimes get lumped in with The Sound and Comsat Angels, but the music here ultimately owes more to the precedent of The Cure and Joy Division. Unsurprisingly, Breathless fit in with the stronger 4AD work of the period.

Had This Mortal Coil member and 4AD label honcho Ivo Watts-Russell put this out on his own label rather than Breathless self-releasing it on their Tessa Vossa imprint, the chances are good that this record and the band would have a much higher profile today. This is speculation of course, but the likelihood is reinforced by inspired musicianship rather than the by-the-numbers (or better said, hand-me-down) moves that were surfacing in ethereal post-punk (aka OG dream pop) at the time. But it’s also not as if the influences can’t be discerned, as Joy Div greatly impacts the consecutive “All My Eye & Betty Martin” and “Count on Angels.” But they do it very well. It’s side one’s closer “Monkey Talk” that works up a level of intensity reinforcing The Glass Bead Game as the beginning of something special. A-

Go Hirano, Corridor of Daylights (Black Editions) This 2004 set is the third of three records Japanese musician Hirano cut for the P.S.F. label starting in 1993, though he was also in psych rock band White Heaven. This music is aptly described as home field recordings with piano at the fore. It also features melodica, wind chimes, the ambience of Hirano’s surroundings, even a little vocalizing, and in “Coral,” some treated guitar from Roderick Zalameda. The whole is gentle and captivating as it naturally differs quite a bit from White Heaven and is further distinguished from the too-often predictable bright buoyancy of neo-classical piano stuff. This is the only one of Hirano’s P.S.F. releases not originally on vinyl, debuting on the format here. Next month it is bundled with a cassette of unissued material. A

Tangerine Dream, Sorcerer Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Waxwork) Director William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, released to theaters in 1977, was a commercial flop and for a long time was also considered an artistic dud. Its bad reputation endured partly because it wasn’t easy to see in the years after its initial run was over, and if one could locate a copy or a screening, it would likely not be the uncut version in the proper aspect ratio. Well, Friedkin’s cut has since been restored to considerable critical reevaluation, and this soundtrack, notably the first for a Hollywood film from the Krautrock-affiliated Tangerine Dream, is sorta the icing on the cake. It features a short liner text by the director detailing the collaboration. Where much of the Dream’s later stuff doesn’t thrill me, this one satisfies nicely. A-

Big Star, #1 Record and Radio City (Craft) The first and second albums from this foundational power-pop outfit are reissued this week on 180gm vinyl with all-analog mastering and manufacturing at Memphis Record Pressing, which makes this a hometown scenario. That this isn’t a reissue pick really comes down do a lack of imagination in awarding such placement to these records, as both have been long essential to any collection that’s focused on brilliance in rock music, with Big Star an enduring cult rock cornerstone. Listening to #1 Record today for the umpteenth time, it’s still rather perplexing that the record whiffed so mightily with the public at large, though it’s now understood as part of Big Star’s backstory that the promotional ball was fumbled pretty egregiously by record label Ardent.

Unlike many cult artifacts (like Trout Mask Replica, for instance), there’s nothing difficult or strange about #1 Record. It’s a straight-up pop-rocker with strong songs and considerable range. It’s tempting to call it a perfect LP, but it still connects like a debut. The poor sales caused Chris Bell to leave the group, and when members depart a band situation so early it usually spells the beginning of, if not the end, then at least a diminishment of returns. But with Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens remaining, this was not the case with Radio City. Instead of recalibrating their sound to seek retail favor, they doubled down, and it’s that sort of stubbornness that often results in masterpieces. It can also lead to drinking problems and substance abuse, which is indeed part of the background of Big Star’s next one. A / A

Calibro 35, Momentum (Record Kicks) After marking an anniversary with 2018’s Decade, this Italian instrumental combo dish their seventh album as a statement of purpose. The elements that define their style are well accounted for; the funk-tinged live instrument-based grooving a la Budos Band, the attentiveness to turntable-based producers from hip-hop’s classic era, e.g. DJ Shadow, and the influence of soundtrack work from their home country, like Morricone in crime-action film mode. The label’s mention of increased synths and electronic ingredients results in an atmosphere that’s reminiscent at times of something Warp Records might’ve put out in the late ’90s, but as everything is played live, their similarity to Tortoise is reinforced. Illa J and MEI add vocals to two cuts with positive results. B+

Chrissy, “New Atlantis EP” (17 Steps) The PR for this 5-track techno EP by DJ and producer Chrissy additionally describes him/her as a “dance music historian,” though no further info is provided into the awarding of the accolade. I’m assuming Chrissy listened to a lot of records. The promo doesn’t even inform me of where Chrissy is from, which is alright, as I preferred learning that this set is inspired by and takes its name from an unfinished utopian novel by Sir Francis Bacon, a decidedly pro-science text for these times, where acquired intelligence and verified facts are increasingly under fire. I’m no dance music historian, but I’ve heard enough to glean that Chrissy isn’t breaking new ground here but is instead reshaping/ integrating. The 27 minutes speed by with palpable inspiration in the assemblage. A-

Harry Cloud, The Pig and the Machine (whitewOrm) Los Angelino Harry Cloud is a busy fellow. In addition to his work under his own name, of which this is his latest and by the looks of it his vinyl debut, a 2LP on light blue opaque wax, he’s in Orphan Goggles (reviewed here last year through a split 7-inch with Acid Mothers Temple), Kill Kill Kill, Fannyland, and Cops, the latter a trio featuring L.A. punk vet Paul Roessler. The connection to Roessler, who was in The Screamers, Gexa X and the Mommymen, and The Deadbeats (and who has recorded all five Harry Cloud releases) had me expecting a certain thing. Punk movers like “Bowser” fit the bill, but I wasn’t prepared for the Sigur Rós/ Godspeed redolent opener “Fantasia.” There are also plenty of twisted psych moves and even some metallic grandiosity. B+

Destination Lonely, Nervous Breakdown (Voodoo Rhythm) Now, if you’re old like me and/ or you’re just really into garage punk, you might recall this here band name as the title of an album by one of the style’s greatest bands, Cheater Slicks. That means for those cognizant of the Slicks’ achievement, this French trio has some sizable shoes to fill, and amazingly, they manage to do okay, in part because Destination Lonely are at times quite laden with ’60s fuzz, and to an almost Detroit degree (they cover The Stooges’ “Ann”). This should hopefully impart that, unlike some garage merchants, they eschew an overly mannered approach. This shouldn’t imply that they can’t successfully downshift into less raucous situations. They can. Another surprising atypical for punk move is that Nervous Breakdown is a 2LP. A-

King Khan/Sadies, “Old Gunga Din” b/w “The Most Despicable Man Alive” (Khannibalism / Ernst Jenning Recording Co. / Sadisks) Per the press release, King Khan and The Sadies’ Dallas Good were once somewhat at odds, but they’ve quashed the beef and are now blood brothers, and that’s swell. Even better is this split, which offers a swank stylistic continuity pointing to a specific influence that can be located encyclopedically under Hazlewood, Lee. On the a-side, Khan, with help from Mary Simich and Natalia Avelon, blends the inspiration of this august figure with usurping and altering of olden musical stereotyping of the Other (you know, like they did it way back when). On the flip, the Sadies dip Lee’s gargantuan mustachioed aura in Western-tinged psych with a tale of LSD and violence. A- / A-

Laumė, Waterbirth (Carpark) The label helpfully informs us that Laumė rhymes with Pflaum, as in New Zealand-born current Londoner Kim Pflaum. Since 2016, she’s been shaping (with help from French producer Rude Jude) the 13 synth-poppy songs on this pink-vinyl 2LP (totaling a standard album length of 47 minutes). The results lean heavily to the right side of the style’s hyphen, which is to say that it’s all pretty radio friendly, if you’ll excuse the archaic terminology. This is something of a let down for me, not because I’ve a problem with radio pop, but that the promo came with a comparison to Kate Bush (plus Sade and Grimes); after time spent, I can comprehend the namedrop but still don’t really hear it. Pflaum is strong of voice and the care in the making is clear, but too much of this just bups along. B-

Nicole Oberle, Skin (Whited Sepulcher) Sayeth the press release provided for this cassette (in an edition of 75), “Nicole’s discography dates back to April, 2019.” That’s not a very long time in human terms, and while it’s not described as such, I’m going to call this her debut. Oberle is an ambient artist, though there are a enough stylistic detours here, like the crisp electric guitar progression of “cold metal” (not Metallic in style and not an Iggy Pop cover) and the acoustic strum in “a knot in twos,” that her work resists tidy categorization. On one hand, these diversions from an ambient template bring an almost post-rock sensibility, but there is ominousness (never developing into full-blown menace) suggesting non-dance Industrial and then spots reminiscent of ’90s electronica. Which brings us back to ambient. B

Okay Kaya, Watch This Liquid Pour Itself (Jagjaguwar) Kaya Wilkins is a Norwegian-born New Yorker, and she’s the second of the releases collected here this week to be accompanied with a comparison to Sade. In this instance, it’s that’s she’s like “Sade for nihilists.” Heh! This really points to her abilities as a lyricist, and yes, this is one of the few contempo promos I’ve received that includes the printed words as sung. I’ll confess that I didn’t read them, but that’s not because they’re bad. It’s more because that’s not typical behavior on my part, and the lyrics didn’t strike me as strong enough for me to open up that document. But hey, I’m not really a lyrics guy. I am a songs guy, and while Kaya initially had me thinking she was offering even more synth-pop, she’s often quite ’60s derived, but thoroughly up to date. B

World/Inferno Friendship Society, All Borders Are Porous to Cats (Alternative Tentacles) It’s partially due to the ceaseless deluge of new music that I haven’t heard this Brooklyn outfit before now, and when I say outfit, I mean a whole lot of fucking people, like dozens, past and present (in performance, the group is apparently trimmed down). Led by Jack Terricloth, the World/Inferno sound has been described as cabaret punk and circus punk, both descriptors that made me a little fidgety before listening. They utilize a horn section to an often ska punk-inflected result, and at various moments remind me of The Pogues, Mike Patton’s lesser moments with Mr. Bungle, and Gogol Bordello. Which leads me to conclude that I’ve not previously heard them because they simply aren’t my bag. At least now I know. C+

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