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

Part four 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, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: GRID, Decomposing Force (NNA Tapes) Featuring Matt Nelson (Battle Trance, Elder Ones) on saxophone, Tim Dahl (Child Abuse, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus) on bass, and Nick Podgurski (New Firmament, Feast of the Epiphany) on drums, this is GRID’s second album after a self-titled debut in 2017 (that one’s still available on cassette, this one’s on LP), though last year they also collaborated with Lydia Lunch on a sweet track as tribute to key Beat writer Herbert Huncke. Decomposing Force is a brutal but also atmospheric slab of post-free jazz-molten noise-Industrial strength improv scorch that should briefly cheer up those who are perpetually saddened by the lack of biannual releases from Borbetomagus. It’s not quite as hammer-down as that trio (notice I said atmospheric) but it definitely has the potential to be a room clearer. So, don’t play it during quarantine. Unless you’re hanging with a bunch of Wolf Eyes fans, in which case the party’s just getting started. What a lucky fucker you are. A

Harkin, S/T (Hand Mirror) Although she has a ton of experience as a touring musician along with a few studio credits including Waxahatchee’s Out in the Storm, this is the debut from Katie Harkin, which is also the first release on the ambitious new label she’s formed with her partner, the writer Kate Leah Hewell (they describe Hand Mirror as a “creative community,” with literary publications and live events part of the plan). The eponymous effort is a solid one, reinforcing her background along with smarts in choosing collaborators; the set features the drums of Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint) and Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Bon Iver). Additionally, Harkin reveals savvy in combining a live foundation with electronic elements including samples and synths.

As said, savvy: the record doesn’t really go in for an electro-poppy sound but is instead mildly reminiscent of the sorta “serious” high-tech album statements that occasionally emerged during the 1980s, though even with a few post-Gothy strains and Kate Bushy motions, this general tendency doesn’t feel like a calculated state of affairs (which is to say, maybe you won’t hear it, and it might’ve not been her intention). Part of why has to do with Harkin’s guitar playing, which is most assertive early (vaguely like Barney Sumner in early New Order in opener “Mist on Glass”) and late (in closer “Charm and Tedium”), but the biggest reason is that it’s clear Harkin isn’t striving to fit into any sort of stylistic niche. Her songs are as strong as her singing, and I’d say this is a promising record, but really, she’s already essentially delivered. A-

999, Bish! Bash! Bosh! (Cleopatra) To be blunt, punk reunion albums rarely excite me, though some of the output in this mode from the Damaged Goods label has helped to um, loosen me up a bit in this regard. I’m not exactly clear if this counts as a reunion set, but it is the band’s first LP in 13 years, so unless you’re caught ‘em live somewhere, it might as well be. Also, 999 aren’t up there with my faves from the UK class of ’77, though I think their early stuff’s okay. That founding members Nick Cash (vocals) and Guy Davis (guitar) are on board was a promising sign (with bassist Arturo Bassick logging over a quarter century with the band), so I dug in and…the contents are much better than expected. Punk bands in this stage of existence usually make their bread touring, but the unexpected level of success here derives from songwriting that’s considerably deeper than pogo ready-mades. I spun Bish! Bash! Bosh! three consecutive times without getting the fidgets, and that’s no small thing, so… B+

Elder, Omens (Armageddon Shop) Elder are currently based in Berlin (by way of Massachusetts) and have been at it for roughly 15 years, but I’ve managed to not hear ‘em until now. The story is that they emerged with a more stoner temperament, but this new record puts them pretty squarely in the middle of a Venn diagram consisting of melodic hard rock, heavy metal and prog rock. This keeps matters from getting too technically showy as the tracks are lengthy (all five break nine minutes as “Halcyon” gets beyond 13); soaking up the whole record (hovering around 55 minutes and smartly released as a 2LP set to let the high fidelity shine through) reveals a band that clearly favors the classic progenitors in the above-cited styles but without (cover art aside) sounding like they’ve been exhumed from the 1970s. Elder’s sound could’ve existed in the ’90s, but they avoid basically all of the pitfalls of non-punkish heavy music from that decade. Omens stands up tall all the way through, and that’s kind of a big deal. A-

Ben Holmes, Naked Lore (Chant) Brooklynite Holmes is a trumpeter, composer and educator who’s played with, amongst many others, Vampire Weekend and Gogol Bordello, though Naked Lore’s “set of original music exploring folkloric themes” is clearly a much more personal project as reflected in part by the sheer impeccable verve of the playing, which along with Holmes features Brad Shepik on guitars and Shane Shanahan on percussion. To illuminate Naked Lore’s essence a little further, it’s offered as a soundtrack to ancient stories passed down, or as often not passed down, through generations, with a basis in the musical mode of freygish, which Holmes first heard in synagogue as a young child, further adapting these ideas with an ancient-to-future approach inspired by the noted credo of The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Also germane to this recording is Holmes’ playing on Michael Winograd’s stellar Kosher Style from last year, specifically due to a shared ambiance that Holmes describes here as “old world.” However, Naked Lore is a distinct entity, partly due to its trio configuration. This means a tighter instrumental palette, but the tradeoff is a deeper immersion into the flurries of deftness and beauty, the elevated interaction, and the stretches of solo space, much of it from Holmes. Suffice it to say that what’s heard across Naked Lore is mastery. It’s been tagged as chamber jazz, which is right enough but still feels a bit limiting. It’s also worth emphasizing the future part of the group’s mode of operation, as Naked Lore never sounds like an antique, though there’s also no straining for the contemporary or the cutting edge. Across its length, the CD offers engaging, even faultless execution. An absolute gem of a record. A

Howling Hex, Knuckleball Express (Fat Possum) When I peruse through promo blurbs for upcoming releases and stumble onto the proclaimed influence of the Atlanta Rhythm Section, I must say I get a little worried. Okay, I actually almost always set that record aside. I say almost due to this new one from Neil Michael Haggerty’s Howling Hex (after the dissolution of the reunion of Royal Trux), which ‘fesses to taking inspiration from ARS. But I wasn’t worried, because Haggerty’s stuff is always interestingly bent, whether he’s expanding upon a love for the 13th Floor Elevators (here) or Nazareth (back in his earlier Trux days). I say bent rather than druggy, as “City in the Country” suggests that Haggerty might be currently living clean in Colorado. That tune is a highlight, in part because of the vocal and guitar input of Nicole Lawrence. Also, her singing in “Mr. Chicken” is a treat that got me thinking, almost certainly coincidentally, of The Red Krayola’s “Jimmy Silk / Supper Be Ready Medley.” Like, totally right on. A-

Lily Konigsberg, “It’s Just Like All the Clouds” (Wharf Cat) It’s just like an understatement to call Konigsberg’s work stylistically far-reaching. This goes for her band Palberta and especially outside of it, where she often favors collaboration (e.g. releases with Andrea Schiavelli and Matt Norman aka Horn Horse), but she sometimes flies solo, like on this new 4-song 7-inch. Now, Konigsberg’s reach is such that occasionally her stuff can sound like tweaked bedroom/ experimental pop versions of what the promo text calls “top-charting Billboard hits.” That stuff doesn’t really send me, but the closest she gets to that here is the autotuned synth pop of the title track, which is the kind of song, under normal circumstances, I could only imagine hearing out in public by accident. Needless to say, these are not normal times. Thankfully for me the other three cuts land in more trad guitar strum bedroom pop territory. Closer “Summer in the City” (not a cover), with its horn line, is a little gem. B+

Tatsuya Nakatani & Shane Parish, Interactivity (Cuneiform) Originally from Japan, avant-garde percussionist Nakatani has lived in the USA for 25 years and currently resides in Truth or Consequences, NM. Parish, noted as the guitarist in the experimental-jazz-prog-rock outfit Ahleuchatistas, lives in Asheville, NC. While this is the second album documenting their collaboration, they’ve been playing together for almost ten years, as they improvise whenever Nakatani’s world tours bring him through Asheville. The music here was captured in performance at Asheville’s Static Age Records. This familiarity is abundantly heard across Interactivity’s three pieces, as there is a fluidity of interaction that brings a warmth that I don’t regularly hear in free improv.

After a few listens, I’ll say that a lot of the warm quality comes from Parish, who plays in an often abstract but largely non-abrasive style with roots that can be traced back to the sweet musical bedrock of Appalachia, though doing so will take some time. Nakatani’s sonic kitbag includes an adapted bowed gong and a hand-carved Kobo Bow along with drums, cymbals, singing bowls and more, but his approach isn’t as rattle-tastic or wildly eclectic as some improv percussionists that have burst out of the halls of academe (Nakatani is also a teacher). It seems his choice of desert living reflects spirituality that informs a personal approach that reaches back to the traditional as well, in this case, the music of his home country. Interactivity is an altogether superb outing of easily digestible length. A

Whitney Rose, We Still Go to Rodeos (MCG Recordings) It’s been a while since Rose’s last one, Rule 62. ‘twas 2017 in fact, but she hasn’t made any radical changes to her sound with this LP, her fourth, she’s just broadened it productively. At the core is her merger of ’60s pop and traditional pop-country that should easily please fans of ’80s Maria McKee, though this set’s opener “Just Circumstance” reminded me more of Rough Trade-era Lucinda Williams (with some of that “Running on Empty”-style slide guitar thrown in), and that’s cool. After two albums produced by Raul Malo of the Mavericks, Rose has hit the studio with Paul Kolderie, which might seem an odd choice, but he worked with Uncle Tupelo back in the day, and the results here are solid. My favorites are the loud and raw rockers like “In a Rut” and “I’d Rather Be Alone” (where the banjo impressively still registers), plus the lightly power-pop-tinged “Better Man,” but it all goes down easy, with everything written by Rose. A-

Chad Taylor Trio, The Daily Biological (Cuneiform) My main point of entry here is drummer Taylor, in part for his role in forming (with cornetist Rob Mazurek) the Chicago Underground Duo and also because he’s on a whole bunch of recordings including the Marc Ribot Trio’s Live at the Village Vanguard, my pick for the best record of 2014 (Henry Grimes RIP). But I also know Settles a bit for his work in Tomas Fujiwara’s The Hook Up and Frequency Response with bassist Tom Abbs, violinist Jean Cook and Taylor. It’s pianist Podgurski who’s the new name for me, though to be fair he doesn’t have an extensive body of recorded work. He does play on Secret Handshake, a 2011 release by Brian Settles / Central Union, but it’s the Bön-Buddhist-inspired CD Nine Times One Hundred Thousand that I’d really like to hear.

All of the above background relates to how The Daily Biological presented a blend of personal expectations and the eagerness for discovery. There was also the reality that a piano-sax-drums trio inspires a whole lot more immediate excitement for me than a standard piano-bass-drums setup would. The lack of bass is mentioned in Cuneiform’s typically generous promo text for this CD as it’s noted how all the players occasionally step into the “low-end” role. This happens rather subtly, as the interaction is fluid and exciting across nine compositions, two from Settles, three from Taylor, and four from Podgurski. The whole is pretty seamless, as some of Podgurski’s wildest (Cecil Taylor-esque) playing emerges in Settles’ tune “Swamp.” And while the music is certainly informed by the avant-garde, the compositional base means the jazz root is strong and quite recognizable. In fact, often beautiful. A

Zeroh, BLQLYTE (Leaving) This is Zeroh’s proper debut for Leaving, though there are a few other releases in his discography, including a double cassette of earlier material collected by Leaving and released last year that I haven’t checked out. It exudes an aura that’s somewhat formidable but also enticing, partly because BLQLYTE is nothing if not a twisted affair. A better description is probably psychedelic. Leaving states that it’s “perhaps classifiable as a rap album.” I’d say it’s definitely a rap album, it’s just far from a typical one, partly because its psych qualities divert from the established sound of this sort of thing. This is not to say that folks into prior examples of psychedelic hip-hop won’t be into this, and I also don’t want to short-shrift the guy, as there are spots on this LP, like “Sworn Free,” that move beyond category. Which is very nice. But in psychedelic hip-hop terms, “4D” is a highlight. A-

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