Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Soft Pink Truth, Shall We Go on Sinning so That Grace May Increase? (Thrill Jockey) Conceived by Drew Daniel of Matmos, the latest release in this long-running if on-again-off-again project is a direct byproduct of the artist’s desire to respond emotionally and artistically to creeping global fascism, generally, and a certain narcissistic incompetent’s election to the US Presidency, more directly. He’s further stated that he didn’t want to make “angry white guy” music, which means this album (available digitally today and out on vinyl June 19, understandably delayed due to pressing plant safety issues related to Covid-19) isn’t an exercise in sloganeering or didacticism, a lack that’s appreciated but frankly not especially surprising, as Daniel isn’t a strong candidate for making like a pissed-off Caucasian on record, even as a portion of The Soft Pink Truth’s catalog is dedicated to interpretations of what many (not me) would dismiss as “angry white guy” music.

I’m talking about Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want The Soft Pink Truth? (described as “electronic interpretations of UK punk and American hardcore songs”) and Why Do the Heathen Rage? (“electronic profanations of black metal classics”). And yet it’s important to note The Soft Pink Truth began as a challenge to Daniel to make a house record, a root that’s manifest here in the decidedly club-friendly second track “We.” Although Daniel’s engagement with the house style isn’t sustained through this record, the music still coheres into a life-affirming whole, with moments that can even be called joyous. Furthermore, The choice of a biblical quote, specifically from Paul the Apostle, has been explained as relating to Daniel’s “creative practice and how one should live in the world,” but the title also gets to how the music provides a “much-needed escape” while avoiding the pitfalls of escapism. Shall We Go on Sinning so That Grace May Increase? can be thought of as gospel music for these troubled times. A

ONO, Red Summer (American Dreams) Now, Chicago’s ONO have been called a “gospel industrial band” and “punk-gospel-noise.” These may seem unusual juxtapositions, so here’s the statement of purpose from the group’s website: ONO is an “Experimental, Noise and Industrial Poetry Performance Band Exploring Gospel’s Darkest Conflicts, Tragedies and Premises.” Noise is amongst the most confrontational of musics; most find it something to abjure, while a smaller number welcome it as a presence to be reckoned with; it can’t exist as background, and resists being ignored. The industrial genre, in its earliest years, was in many ways an offshoot, or indeed, an early incarnation of noise music, which had yet to really be articulated as a form.

ONO spans back to this era, formed in 1980 by P Michael Grego and travis, the former handling the audio, the latter the words, with records released in ’83 (Machines That Kill People) and ’86 (Ennui) for the noted San Francisco punk indie label Thermidor (both were reissued in limited editions in 2013 and ’15, respectively, by the Galactic Archive label). Now, ONO’s music might seem an odd fit for the gospel tag, but if confrontational, Red Summer is, per the above statement of purpose, contending with the past and how it impacts the present, and all in hopes of a better future. Over the decades, the lineup has changed a lot, but P Michael (here on samplers, drum machine, bass, and synthesizer) and travis (again, the words and vocals) have been the constants, with work on Red Summer commencing in 2015.

It’s a record described as being “about Chicago, racial violence, and the long arm of history,” specifically the attacks on Black Americans across the summer of 1919, and as said, how these horrific episodes not only linger into now, but just as importantly, how racist atrocities are interwoven into the USA’s very conception (opener “20th August 1619”) and have never been appropriately addressed. The band features such notables as Jordan Reyes, Rebecca Pavlatos, Ben Karas, Ben Billington, Shannon Rose Riley, and Dawei Wang plus guests including Lee Tesche of Algiers, John Olson of Wolf Eyes, Terry Turtle of Buck Gooter (RIP), and Rahim Salaam, and if the incendiary track titles: “Coon,” “I Dream of Sodomy” (which partly concerns sexual abuse travis suffered while in the Army), “Tar Baby,” and “Black Stain,” amongst them, suggest an unrelenting screed (no matter how deserving), Red Summer is just too precise, too unpredictable, and ultimately, too productive, to be assessed as a mere statement of anger. A

Apparat, Capri-Revolution (Mute) Germany’s Sascha Ring has been at it for a while now, emerging on the scene shortly after the turn of the new century, initially in techno mode but like many, gradually turning toward the ambient, which is really a catchall term indicating a preference for soundscapes over beat-driven stuff. Well, beats are surely not the focus of Capri-Revolution, which is the soundtrack to the Mario Martone-directed film of the title. Interestingly, it’s about “a young goatherd living on Capri in 1914, when Europe is on the precipice of World War I.” While not entirely electronic, Ring’s compositions illuminate how the film avoids a frequent (and potentially clichéd) trope of utilizing period-appropriate instrumentation in the soundtrack for a period film. This scenario also plays a role in how the pieces here stand on their own, which is to say that Ring’s music inspires repeat listens without the benefit of experiencing the narrative it accompanies. A-

Boat, Tread Lightly (Magic Marker) This reactivated (rather than reunited, as they never actually broke up) Seattle-Tacoma band’s new album comes on so strong that I initially had to take a step back. Melodic indie rock specialists who last cut a record in 2013 (Pretend to Be Brave, also on Magic Marker), Boat are so boldly produced and vocally extroverted that it’s as if they’ve been at it the whole time, even with the faux false starts of opener “Metabolism.” The bigness of the singing from leader David Crane is reminiscent of the heavier side of ’90s-’00s power-pop (a la Weezer) and at a couple of spots even reminded me of Britpop, though as the record deepened its impression two similarities were driven home; Doug Martsch’s more poppy turns in Built to Spill and Pavement’s more straightforward stuff. A guest cameo by Chris Ballew underscored a mild likeness to The Presidents of the USA as well, so this LP ultimately stands as a fresh serving of the Pac-NW’s enduring non-Grunge pop-rock sound. Cool. B+

Brownout, Berlin Sessions (Fat Beats) This Austin crew is probably best-known for their Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath side project, a thoroughly non-gimmicky melding of the group’s Latin-funk and Black Sabbath’s songs, though Brownout’s subsequent effort, Fear of a Brown Planet, which found them dishing instrumental versions of Public Enemy selections, surely isn’t far behind. Brownout do have three prior full-lengths of original material, but this effort, produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and The Blasters (hence the title, as they recorded in TX not Germany), is the first since Oozy in 2012 and the first with singer Alex Marrero, who was the vocalist for Brown Sabbath. The results are a consistent pleasure as the psychedelic qualities for which they are noted are often subtly executed (but certainly there). The restraint is appreciated, though I can’t deny wishing they’d turn the burner all the way up once or twice. However, Berlin Sessions is the rare album with two bonuses as strong as the LP. B+

Cut Beetlez vs Nice Guys, CBNG (Fabyl) Finland’s Cut Beetlez are HP Lovescratch and DJ J-Man, here teaming with rappers Dirty Winters and Lynx 196.9, who together comprise the Philly/ Cali duo Nice Guys, for a short (17 tracks in a little under 30 minutes) but highly effective showcase of sampling, scratching, looping, beat dropping and syllable slinging, the quality unsurprising as the Beetlez’ prior collab with NYC’s Good People established the Finns as savvy practitioners of turntable and microphone science based in hip-hop’s ’90s heyday but with a creative edge in tune with the style’s underground innovators. Well, the brevity of CBNG only illuminates the inventiveness of the Beetlez as the Nice Guys hang right in there; indeed, the sparks fly forth here from a foundation so compact that the sheer unusualness of the record is magnified considerably, and leaves me wanting more. A-

ist ist, Architecture (Kind Violence) Manchester’s ist ist have been extant for roughly five years. While this is designated as their debut album, they’ve been playing live and have been releasing singles and EPs with some vinyl action in the mix including Sessions, a self-released comp LP of 12-inch material that came out last year. All this info goes to emphasizing the sturdiness of the band’s sound, which in sort of a hometown tradition combines standard rock instrumentation with keyboards and synths, though it’s the latter elements that are immediately asserted in Architecture’s opener “Wolves.” It doesn’t take long for the guitars to roar forth and the rhythms to spur highly rocking post-punkish ambiance. There’s a decided Joy Division by way Interpol feel, and maybe it’s just their geographical proximity, but it goes down better than expected. Perhaps a bit too rock at times, but Adam Houghton singing the lyric “What you need now is some self-control” in “Discipline” surely brought a certain someone to mind. B+

Joan as Police Woman, Cover Two (PIAS) Joan Wasser’s first record of all covers, released in 2009 and titled simply Cover, wrapped up with a version of “Keeper of the Flame” as immortalized by Nina Simone, and this sequel (housed in a sleeve that’s photo is something of a visual cover of Loverboy’s Get Lucky) opens with a soulfully slowed-down reading of Prince’s “Kiss” that briefly brought to mind what Aretha might’ve done with it. This sets in motion a record steeped in R&B and soul gusto, even when she’s tackling material that’s pretty far afield of those overlapping genres, like Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It” and Blur’s “Out of Time.” This works, foremost because Wasser’s easily up to the task instrumentally and vocally. Second, she peppers the sequence with selections that lend cohesiveness to this inclination (e.g. Outkast, Michael McDonald, Gil Scott-Heron), though her late-night jazz piano bar interpretation of Neil’s “On the Beach” steals the show. Highly admirable work. A-

Laser Background, Evergreen Legend (Self-released) This is songwriter & multi-instrumentalist Andy Molholt, he of Speedy Ortiz and Coughy, here dishing the latest in an off-kilter psych-pop-rock-studio project that has a few prior releases out spanning back to 2012, though I’ll confess to being unfamiliar with any of it. To Molholt’s credit, the music here isn’t easy to peg, which perhaps explains the wildly broad (and bold) RIYL included in the promo email for this release. With one possible exception, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t’ve come up with any of them, and yet after a few spins, they all made sense. The one I might’ve thought of myself is early Eno, but Evergreen Legend sounds like ol’ Bri only fleetingly. To come up with a few of my own comparisons, I thought of Sean Lennon’s ’98 album Into the Sun, Dan Deacon, Beta Band, and John Frusciante’s Niandra LaDes, though in all these cases, the likenesses are brief. Maybe you won’t hear any of them. Wouldn’t that be a sweet kick. B+

White Poppy, Paradise Gardens (Not Not Fun) White Poppy is Crystal Dorval of British Columbia, with this LP the most recent in a handful of releases spanning back to 2012, a few of them cassette-only. Paradise Gardens started out as an attempt four years ago at “new age shoegaze bossa nova.” The results can perhaps be condensed down to two words and one hyphen: dream-pop. But, a few tracks, like “Hawk,” beg for a slightly longer tag. I’d add “bedroom” to the description, which applies perfectly fine to the whole album, to be honest. Now, I won’t deny that a few new ageist timbres have survived Dorval’s initial conception, finale “Phoenix,” in particular. It’s just that the whole of Paradise Gardens is so song oriented that it’s difficult to escape the dream-, uh, poppy execution. Candidly in closing, these are all essentially first impressions of Dorval’s work, which has connected with me positively enough that I’m into checking out her earlier stuff. By all means, take that as a recommendation. B+

Devon Williams, A Tear in the Fabric (Slumberland) Although he has an extensive musical background in a number of settings, none of that activity seems germane to the topic at hand, except for his prior solo material. Williams’ last record, his third, was Gilding the Lily in 2014; that one and the one before, Euphoria from 2011, came out on Slumberland, which is a fitting label for Williams’ brand of sophisticated indie-pop, a sound so developed that it lands securely in pop auteur territory. It’s songs, totaling 44 minutes and unwinding like a record from the later portion of the classic LP era, often resonate as having been toiled over in a country house somewhere in the British Isles, rather than in Los Angeles, where William’s started out in a band playing Epitaph Records-approved punk rock. But hey, I said we weren’t going to talk about that.

So instead, let’s reiterate how Williams did indeed extensively labor over these songs, all while raising a daughter born four years ago and suffering the death of his father last year. The basics of life can often prolong the artistic process, and yet, the mixing of A Tear in the Fabric reportedly took two years, which is a length of time often associated with records that end up sounding underwhelming and/ or dysfunctional. Well, that’s not the case here. And time spent with these dozen songs reveal an undercurrent that’s definitely a little West Coast, if not downright L.A. There’s the ’70s singer-songwriter pedal steel in “Domesticated” and a subtle soft-rock tendency highlighting the involvement of Dave Carswell (known for his work with Destroyer). On one hand, this is not a surprise, as erudite indie-pop often flirts with AOR sensibilities. That Williams pulls it off is what’s impressive. A-

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