Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Five

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Bad History Month, Old Blues (Exploding in Sound) Before releasing Dead and Loving It: An Introductory Exploration Of Pessimysticism as Bad History Month in 2017, vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Sean Sprecher was half of Fat History Month with drummer Mark Fede. This is his second album on his own, and it attains a level of introspection that has been tagged, at least once, as emo, though the songs here exude the quality of being well read that borders on the intellectual, and certainly literary, so that I’m reminded more of David Berman and Bill Callahan (plus, anybody who cops the name of a Mel Brooks movie for an album title is on to something more than the dour self-seriousness/ self-absorption that mars so much emo).

But on a purely musical level, Old Blues productively branches out a bit, at times recalling early Sebadoh, though I’ll emphasize these moments are fleeting. Furthermore, because hardly anything here moves particularly fast, the sound and perhaps better said, the mood, can bring to mind slowcore, and spiked with flareups of loner folk. But upon consideration, Sprecher, with Fede producing, has labored over an immersive set of music, as sharp instrumentally as it is vividly (and complexly) observational, that isn’t easily comparable to any other artist or band. Bookended by two long, shape shifting, and thematically linked tracks in “Waste Not” (13 minutes) an “Want Not” (15 minutes) that reinforce the heights of Sprecher’s ambition, the five shorter cuts productively contrast through restraint. In the end, Old Blues sounds like the kind of record that might’ve been squirted out by an indie label in the mid-’90s to a gradually increasing and passionate cult following. That’s a welcome gift in 2020. A

Lewsberg, In This House (12XU) The second LP from this Rotterdam, Netherlands-based band is the first to get a US release. Anybody into art-punk/ post-punk should investigate its ten tracks with haste, for they cohere into a stone killer. Utilizing the tried-and-true lineup of dual guitars (Arie van Vliet, Michael Klein), bass (Shalita Dietrich), drums (Dico Kruijsse) and vocals (Klein sings lead save for one track and Dietrich handles the occasional backing except for her turn up front), In This House is the latest in a long line of examples that underscore the inexhaustible inspiration of the Velvet Underground, although as in the finest prior instances of this influence, the Velvets are largely employed as a foundation rather than as a full-on template. I say largely because “Cold Light of Day” is a slice of VU action that’s completely, some might say flagrantly, undisguised, and an utter gem in the category of how to do it right.

That is, it’s never a mere copy. The other nine songs serve up a full platter of the aforementioned art-punk/ post-punk with range that’s subtly expressed as it firmly reinforces Lewsberg as a band with a focused sound. The simple fact of the matter is the genre in which they excel doesn’t often hang together in full albums by one band (those cornerstone art-punk/ post-punk LPs have attained that stature for a reason), much less a stunner on the level of In This House. And they’ve done it twice; I went back and checked their eponymous debut from 2018, and it kicks, just not as hard as this one. That’s great, and even rarer. Another cool turn of events is how Dietrich’s lead vocal in “Jacob’s Ladder” hit me like Kendra Smith’s did the first time I listened to The Days of Wine and Roses. If you dig the VU and The Dream Syndicate but also love The Fall, this LP could be your new fave. A

Sylvain Chauveau, Life Without Machines (Flau) French composer Chauveau is known for working with acoustic and electronic instruments, and sometimes vocals. Based on the quality of this album, I’m definitely interested in exploring his earlier releases, though Life Without Machines might not be the best primer for that stuff, as the CD offers 14 short pieces played by French pianist Melaine Dalibert that are inspired by (and can be used as visual scores for) the great Abstract Expressionist/ Color Field painter Barrett Newman’s The Stations of the Cross series. But wait. There’s also a 15th track (“hidden” after a period of silence as part of the 14th) where Chauveau adds quiet electronic ambience and a field recording of nature that deepens the album’s prevailing sense of tranquility.

American poet Kenneth Goldsmith contributes liner notes that compare the music here to Morton Feldman, further positing that Chauveau is superior because at 31 minutes, Life Without Machines is considerably shorter than the six hours of Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2. Although I’m not suggesting he doesn’t really believe that the music here is “the ideal Feldman, the best Feldman ever,” there is something of a prankish provocation in his statements (if you’re familiar with Goldsmith from other settings, you might understand). Still, if you subscribe to the notion that art is best when it’s easily consumable, Chauveau’s music will no doubt work for you better than Feldman. And even if you don’t, there’s no denying that Life Without Machines is a little (okay a lot) more user-friendly than String Quartet No. 2. I mean, I’ve yet to listen to the entirety of the Feldman, but I’ve soaked up Chauveau’s work over a half-dozen times in a week. And so, Goldsmith’s (underlying) point is well taken. A-

Marvin Gaye, More Trouble (Motown/UMe) It might seem odd that Marvin Gaye chose to follow up What’s Going On, his masterpiece from 1971, with the soundtrack to Ivan Dixon’s Trouble Man, an early Blaxploitation film that’s lacks much of a reputation, other than that Gaye scored it, of course (I would like to watch it again, however), but it’s actually a pretty savvy maneuver, as trying to immediately equal (forget about topping) what might be his career achievement would’ve likely ran into some problems along the way. Better to redirect into a project with a different scale, though he ended up with a Top 10 hit, anyway. In grabbing some of the bountiful extras from the 2012 40th Anniversary 2CD of Trouble Man (never released on vinyl), this set is a fine addendum to a highly underrated LP; I’d say if you own and dig the original wax but didn’t pick up the 40th edition, this would serve as a more than adequate distillation. Hell, even if you own the LP and the anniversary collection, this still has its appeal. A-

Luka Kuplowsky, “Judee Justin Arthur Mary” (Mama Bird Recording Co.) Toronto-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Kuplowsky has a few records out, with the first, Calling All Cats Black, released on LP back in 2013. It should be noted how that one and the next two were credited to just Luka, but this new EP puts his surname on the cassette (it’s currently on tape and digital only). This is my introduction to his work however, and probably not an ideal one as it offers four covers. The first is Mary Margret O’Hara’s “Anew Day,” in which Kuplowsky’s vocal (in duet with Felicity Williams) reminds me more than a bit of Ira Kaplan’s gentle quietness on And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, though this cut is in fact quite lively. An appealing start that extends through impressive interpretations of tunes by Arthur Russell and Justin Haynes as a swell reading of Judee Sill’s “There’s a Rugged Road” closes out the set. If not the best entry point into Kuplowsky’s work, it’s certainly an effective one. B+

Rone, A Room with a View (InFiné Music) Rone is French electronic producer Erwan Castex, and this is his fifth album. It’s touted as being a return to making wholly electronic music without collaborators as he built the record alongside providing the music for a live show commissioned by Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet, developing the music in tandem with the choreography collective (LA) HORDE plus 20 dancers from the Ballet National de Marseille. While the selections here aren’t presented as the soundtrack to the live show, the record and the event are surely intertwined, and yet the claims made for A Room With a View as a standalone work register as well-founded. That’s mainly because it unfurls like an album of contemporary electronica, no more no less, with occasional moments of danceability and longer atmospheric passages. Featuring an infusion of voices and rising symphonics, the atypical “Human” is a highlight that sets up a strong finish. B+

RVG, Feral (Fire) Although they have a prior full-length, A Quality of Mercy, that came out in the states via Fat Possum in 2017, this set is the most recent fruit from Fire Records’ Aussie pipeline, as RVG hail from Melbourne. The letters are short for Romy Vager Group, with the truncation a smart one, as the full name puts this oldster in the mind of power trio hard rock or jazz fusion. RVG definitely don’t belong to either of those genres, instead diving into guitar-driven post-punkish melodic rock that can bring to mind a blend of the Go-Betweens, Echo & the Bunnymen, and The Smiths, with the distinction that Vager’s vocals, which she delivers in a highly emotive yet controlled style with occasional crescendos of achy passion, are distinctive. It’s the sort of record that a deeply committed youth prone to bouts of disillusionment could clutch tightly against their chest as the guitars chime and the rhythms roll with precision, i.e. a sound that can make an aged heart feel younger, and that’s a valuable thing. A-

JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland, Oscillospira (Ipecac) In our modern existence, less is often more, but JG Thirlwell is one of our great maximalists. A man of many monikers, he was initially known (and to some, notorious) as Foetus, but also as Clint Ruin and Wiseblood; if you were deep into the ’80s rock u-ground, it was almost certain you crossed his path, especially if you had a hankering for Swans, Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch, etc. But one noteworthy thing is that Thirlwell’s not really properly classified as a rock artist but instead as a composer with a long list of his own albums, as well as a producer, remixer, and arranger for many others. Over the years, he’s scored for film and television in addition to completing many commissions; this work is an offshoot of one.

If perhaps not as well-known, Simon Steensland is acclaimed as Sweden’s most prolific composer for theatrical plays (well over 150 across the spectrum from Shakespeare to Samuel Beckett). He’s also played with Thinking Plague, Gavin Bryars, and Sweden’s Great Learning Orchestra, the group which performed the commission that provided the basis for this collab, with Steensland playing fretless six string sub-bass. Steensland’s interest in covering one section of the commission bloomed into a full collab; he and Thirlwell passed ideas back-and-forth until this new 72-minute recording was finished, with the results stunning in their stylistic breadth and cumulative impact. Combining the sweep of grand symphonies with the verve of more Modernist works including large-scale cinematic scoring, the pair stir in elements of prog-rock and operatic wordless vocals to seamless effect. Unlike some contempo orchestral hybrids, Oscillospira isn’t overly stylized, and it never disappoints. It’s a major achievement. A

V/A, Songs of Hard Times: Up, Over & Through (Selections From the Lomax Collections 1936-1982) (Alan Lomax Archive) We don’t normally promote digital-only releases in this column, but these aren’t normal times, and that this themed collection and Bandcamp exclusive, 20 songs deep and drawn from the vast archive of recordings captured by folklorist Alan Lomax and compiled by Nathan Salsburg, costs a mere $5, it’s a reality worth praising and sharing, especially as many are feeling a tight economic pinch at the moment. In addition to affordability, it’s a highly diverse and resolve-fortifying pleasure for the ears, with selections deriving from Europe, the Caribbean, and the USA, including six previously unreleased tracks. A couple big names pop up (they’d be Bessie Jones and Skip James), but most of this set is ripe for discovery, even if you’re a seasoned fan of global folk. It all sounds terrific. A-

Whim, Abuzz in the Abyss (Fluff & Gravy) Whim is singer-songwriter Sarah Isabella DiMuzio, whose music has been heard on all sorts of TV shows I haven’t watched along with a few prior releases I haven’t heard. I’ve checked this one out however, due to the label’s track record with my ears thus far. DiMuzio’s stuff has been described as indie pop, which is a right-on assessment, though her songs are developed and (I guess) mature enough (she’s been recording since 2013) that she sometimes travels into indie singer-songwriter territory. Her stuff generally resists plumbing the emotional depths of others in that zone, which isn’t to suggest DiMuzio is cold or generic. Not at all. Instead, she can successfully walk a tightrope of sweetness (the indie pop sensibility emerging), in part because her stuff’s lacking in the affected, which given that she plays ukulele and banjolele, is near miraculous. There’re also a few legit folkie moves, and I like the heft of the bass, as well. A-

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