Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2020, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Wolfhounds, Electric Music (A Turntable Friend) Formed in Romford, Essex, England in 1985, the Wolfhounds were one of the 22 lucky bands (all bands) included by the Brit music periodical New Musical Express on their now long-legendary, genre-defining indie-pop compilation C86, initially a tape purchasable via mail order but released on vinyl by the end of that year (reissued in 2014 as an expanded 3CD and then spread out onto 2LP with no extra tracks as a Record Store Day item in 2016, both editions released by Cherry Red). For many, all this background is old news, but it’s worth mentioning in large part due to the Wolfhounds not fully conforming to the subsequent indie-pop model. C86 did offer a handful of acts who spanned stylistically beyond the jangle norm, e.g. Stump and Half Man Half Biscuit, but it should be further clarified that the Wolfhounds’ cut on C86, “Feeling So Strange Again,” fit the jangle mold pretty well.

The same is true for second single “Anti-Midas Touch,” which is my fave cut from the original lineup. Really, it was with a late-’80s personnel shift that the band’s sound became heavier and more in line with indie-rock (often compared to Sonic Youth) than indie-pop, though by 1990 they were kaput. Reformed in the mid-’00s by founding guitarist-vocalists Dave Callahan and Andy Golding, with Richard Golding on bass and Pete Wilkins on drums, they’ve just released their third full-length since, and it finds them retaining and sharpening their denser rock approach, in the process underscoring that the return to activity was no nostalgia gambit. Electric Music is solid throughout and recommended for indie rockers and post-punk lovers alike; hey, there’s even guest bassoon from Scritti Politti’s Rhodri Davies, plus sleeve notes from noted fan Stuart Lee. The title track here is a monster. A-

Silver Scrolls, Music for Walks (Three Lobed Recordings) Featuring Dave Brylawski on guitars and vocals and Brian Quast on drums and vocals (plus bass, guitars, organ), Silver Scrolls have delivered a debut album (they have one prior 7-inch, “Tiny Reason” from back in 2015) that, fitting for its title, is functionally psychedelic, and with blues-rock undercurrents and even a little math-rock, which isn’t surprising as Brylawski was a founding member of Polvo (he was also in Idyll Swords and Black Taj) and Quast drummed in a later incarnation of that band (he was additionally in Cherry Valance and Vanilla Trainwreck). I’ll emphasize a little bit of math-rock, just so you don’t go expecting this to sound like Don Caballero or something. Overall, this set fits into the Three Lobed scheme quite well, which is to reiterate that Silver Scrolls have a handle on expansive possibilities.

Divided into Walk One (side one, four tracks) and Walk Two (side two, two tracks), Music for Walks is described in the nifty promo text (really better described as an online set of liner notes) by Rob Munk as a “light” concept album, which gets us back to the functional. Munk also says that the record starts out in the city and ends up in the mountains, but as they go rural, they avoid taking any detours into the deep weeds, which often happens in heavier psychedelic scenarios. Another way of putting it; this is a record of continual momentum. Silver Scrolls might roll into the thick forests, but they stay on the path. That may read as a disappointment for those who like to get lost and linger, but there are plenty of records that will let you do that. The path exists for a reason, and Silver Scrolls follow it with purpose. Recorded in Arlington, VA by the reliable Don Zientara, Music for Walks might not be heavy, but it is robust. And it has drum solos (more like drum passages) during Walk Two. I totally fucking dig it. A-

Baal & Mortimer, Deixis (Bureau B) Not a duo but the project of Alexandra Grübler. Other than the track “Earthrise,” found on the Heaven label’s “Heaven 1” comp 12-inch, this is her debut, which was “written, recorded, and produced in bedrooms and studios throughout Düsseldorf and Berlin.” Those locales and the releasing label suggest electronica, and as Grübler (as Ball & Mortimer) was a recent mentee of Laurel Halo in the Berlin Amplify program, that’s right on the money, but there is also a tangible current of experimental pop, and early on, in “Kingdom Rest,” experimental R&B. What’s cool is that she never falls into a retro thing as the sound moves around a lot and illuminates the experimental, though nothing on Deixis is particularly severe. Overall, the record is more formally restless than purely abstract, and while there are a few danceable rhythms, this is not a club record. Well, if you did play it in a club, I’d like to go there. Maybe not right now, but at some safe point. “H/Délires” is a highlight. A-

Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, “My Jamaican Dub” b/w “The Healer” (Big Crown) The Esso Trinidad Steel Band’s Esso, released in 1971 and produced by Van Dyke Parks for Warner Brothers, remains one of the go-to discs for steel band action. It delivers a joyous, life-affirming experience, but I’m mentioning it in connection to this contemporary outfit due to the adeptness of both groups in covering the material of others. So, if you dig Esso’s killer version of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” you’ll probably want to get acquainted with Bacao if you aren’t already, with this sweet 45 underscoring the distinctiveness in this Hamburg-based unit’s approach. The A-side takes Grace Jones’ “My Jamaican Guy,” strips it of its vocals, keeps the dancefloor funkiness, and then adapts its instrumental hook to the pans. I only wish it didn’t end so quick. It’s a fine ride, but the flip’s reading of Erykah Badu’s tribute to J. Dilla is the winner here, in part because of the sheer depth and intricacy of the weave. Hopefully, this teases a new LP. A-

Carlotta, “the bow” (Trip Recordings) Electronic producer-performer-DJ Carlota is based in Berlin (raised in Ibiza, Spain), with this EP her debut, save for two compilation appearances, on locus error from last year and on Happy New Year! We Wish You Happiness! from 2018, both issued by Trip Recordings, the Moscow label of Nina Kraviz. This six-song set, ample and flowing (at 28 minutes, longer than some LPs), registers as a solid introductory statement for the artist, ably expressing skills and ideas in a crowded field, but there is confidence that highlights her study in pursuit of a sound engineering degree. She’s also handy with a modular synthesizer, though it needs to be expressed that Carlota’s sound largely springs from a club techno platform; it’s progressive club techno to be sure, but the thump is still plentiful, if not a constant factor in the equation. The main exception is the drifting finale “margarita.” Altogether, “the bow” is an effort of promise that manages to satisfy in the moment. B+

Gato Libre, Koneko (Libra) Neko, the prior CD by this accomplished trio, was one of my favorite recordings of 2017, making it all the way to the second spot of my Best New Releases list for that year. I suspect this new set, also on CD, is going to be a contender in 2020. Gato Libre is led by trumpeter-composer Natuski Tamura and features Yasuko Kaneko on trombone and Satoko Fujii, not on piano (the instrument which has brought her deserved renown) but accordion. The group began as a quartet in 2003 featuring bassist Norikatsu Koreyasu and guitarist Kazuhiko Tsumura. Koreyasu died unexpectedly in 2011, with Kaneko replacing him, and then Tsumura passed in 2015. They’ve continued as a trio since, with Koneko the group’s eighth full-length. In my 2017 list, I grouped Gato Libre with music by Wadada Leo Smith and Tamura’s other group Trouble Kaze and made the distinction that Neko was more approachable, while Trouble Kaze’s June was a wilder affair.

Koneko extends Gato Libre’s generally accessible qualities (from within the realms of new art music and avant-jazz, of course), but it’s more appropriate to say the collected pieces command attention and then reward with substantial beauty. Another splendid attribute is Kaneko’s horn; while the trombone has a long history in jazz, it is too seldomly utilized for its forlorn tone. There’s a good bit of that here, which adds considerable value. Also, getting to hear Fujii on accordion is always a stone treat. If you’re mainly familiar with her on the 88s, this is a prime opportunity to absorb Fujii’s versatility, and by extension, those who mostly know the squeezebox as the mainstay of polka parties and zydeco throwdowns will get the chance to soak up the instrument’s capabilities in regards to drone and with pure melodiousness. That’s nice. Tamura’s nice too, in superb form throughout, dishing some spirited blowing in the title track and in “Bakeneko.” In summation, another total winner from Gato Libre. A

Inter Arma, Garbers Days Revisited (Relapse) Richmond, VA’s Inter Arma are one of contempo metal’s best. Here, they follow-up last year’s Sulphur English with an album of covers; the title clearly nods to Metallica’s EP of same (it’s also named after Inter Arma’s former practice space), though in execution, they are distinct. While Metallica’s set included punk (Misfits) and post-punk (Killing Joke), the other three cuts were heavy metal numbers. Contrasting, Inter Arma only tackle one purely metal selection, Venom’s “In League With Satan,” with the other seven cuts digging into punk with Cro-Mags’ “Hard Times” and Hüsker Dü’s “The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill,” Industrial with Ministry’s “Scarecrow” and Nine Inch Nails’ “March of the Pigs,” two eras of classic rock with Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” (a highlight, structurally faithful but heavier), and a pure chutzpah move with “Purple Rain.” Okay, that last one kinda sounds like a tune they learned so they could play it at soundcheck, but they ramp it up and in so doing made me smile. These days, that’s no small thing. A-

PAINT, Spiritual Vegas (Mexican Summer) PAINT is the solo happening of Pedrum Siadatian of the Allah-Las; the big fucking numeral 2 on the cover (but not in the title) imparts that Spiritual Vegas is his second LP under the moniker. PAINT’s eponymous debut garnered comparisons to such heavyweights as Lou Reed and Kevin Ayers, and while I too heard those similarities, Siadatian wasn’t hitting Berlin or Joy of a Toy levels of goodness. It was still a solid record though, with this one impressing me a little more as he’s joined by two fellow Allah-Las, Spencer Dunham (bass) and Matt Correia (percussion) plus Nick Murray of White Fence and Oh Sees (drums) and Jackson Macintosh of TOPS and Sheer Agony (bass and guitar). The other similarities cited in the PR, namely Ray Davies and Julian Cope also turn up, though the relaxed psych doesn’t connect like a patchwork of influences. Offering 16 selections, this seems like a lot to absorb, but it wraps up in a manageable 43 minutes. I might dig “Land Man” the best. A-

Venus Furs, S/T (Silk Screaming) This is the project of Montreal’s Paul Kasner, which is quite notable, as my initial test drive of this set, sans any background info, had me assuming Venus Furs was a band. But nope, though Kasner was assisted across the set by Simon Petraki. The stated Brit influence, which can be concisely assed as shoegaze-like, isn’t so heavy that I was surprised that Kasner hails from Canada, which is partly because there’s a little neo-psych sprinkled in. It’s also related that this record took a decade to complete, five years for the writing, and another five for the recording, which is a long fucking time. The album doesn’t reflect that span however, which is for the best. It just delivers a hearty dose of rocking ’80s-’90s Alt-Indie action, and especially well constructed as an album hitting a peak a little over mid-way through with “Paranoia,” and then saving the best track, the wailer “Page Before,” for last. Fitting for a record that took ten years to make, this is available on vinyl and compact disc. B+

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