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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Laura Veirs, My Echo (Raven Marching Band) This is record number 11 for Portland, OR singer-songwriter Laura Veirs, featuring ten songs that she describes as her “‘my songs knew I was getting divorced before I did’ album.” If that scenario suggests an atmosphere that’s maudlin, despondent, or bitter, My Echo isn’t any of those, though it’s definitely reflective and occasionally a little melancholy, as opener “Freedom Feeling” infuses her indie folky foundation with string arrangements that are sweeping yet don’t overwhelm the writing or Veirs’ vocals, which retain their sturdy and direct appeal. The strings persist but the songs vary, ranging from bossa nova-tinged to vivid excursions into ’00s indie pop, as “Brick Layer” reminded me a little of Mac McCaughan’s solo work as Portastatic circa Be Still Please. That comparison will likely slide right by many prospective listeners, but those who enjoy McCaughan’s work are destined to dig My Echo too, which includes contributions from Bill Frisell, Karl Blau, and half of the Monsters of Folk (that’d be Jim James and M. Ward). A-

The Luxembourg Signal, The Long Now (Shelflife / Spinout Nuggets) For their third full-length, this seven-member group, with members currently residing in Los Angeles, San Diego and the UK, haven’t deviated from their core sound, which hits the spot where dream-pop and shoegaze meet, though in opener “I Never Want to Leave,” they do integrate a few synths that sound like they could’ve been bought at Brian Eno’s garage sale (it’s worth noting that Eno coined the phrase that titles this album). The resonating guitars, courtesy of Johnny Joyner and Kelly Davis, and the ethereal, sweet-timbred vocals of Beth Arzy and Betsy Moyer are the most immediately distinctive qualities, but the drumming of Brian Espinosa is crisp and forceful, the bass of Daniel Kumiega is full-bodied, and the keyboards of Ginny Pitchford add dimension instead of just feeling tacked on. Also, across the record there are honest-to-goodness songs rather than just foundations for the exploration of textures. At the moment, I’m quite fond of “Mourning Moon” and the soaring ache of closer “When All That We Hold Decays.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Flaming Tunes, S/T (Superior Viaduct) The release date on this one has been pushed back again to November 13, but as the clear vinyl edition is already listed as sold out on the label’s website (the black wax pressing is still very much available), it’s probably a good idea to cover this one now, mainly so folks interested in a limited transparent copy can be on the lookout, as I’m sure a few stores placed preorders. And anybody who has taken a liking for ’80s experimental DIY should definitely consider grabbing this one, and the same goes for fans of This Heat, as Flaming Tunes is the project of that band’s Gareth Williams, alongside Mary Currie. But while there are occasional fleeting hints that this record is descended from This Heat, the whole is much more in line with the ’80s home recorded proto-lo-fi ethos, but with a higher average of experimental success. Superior Viaduct mentions the Canterbury scene and The Residents, which is on the money, but at a few points this reminded me of New Zealand’s Tall Dwarfs, which is to say that there are songs in this equation. A

Ray Barretto, Barretto Power (Craft Latino) The late Ray Barretto stood like a titan at the crossroads of Latin music and jazz. As a session ace, his credits are extensive, and I’ll confess that I am far more familiar with his work on records by pianist Red Garland, saxophonist Arnett Cobb, and guitarist Kenny Burrell than with his extensive output as a bandleader. And I do mean extensive. This set, released in 1970 and given its first vinyl reissue by Craft for its 50th anniversary, is something like his 17th album. It’s not regarded as his best (many would award that distinction to ’68’s Acid, and I won’t argue, as it’s the best that I’ve heard) Barretto Power is less about innovation that getting back to basic principles, those being rhythmic gusto, rich vocals and vivid brass. A ballad does get thrown in for variety, but finale “Power” is a beast, though not as monstrous as Acid’s closer “Espiritu Libre.” But that’s alright. A-

Felix Hatfield, False God (Fangbite) Although a few of his songs have figured in the releases of others, including Jolie Holland (who contributes to this album), False God is the long-playing record debut for Hatfield, who has resided in Portland, OR for over a decade now, though he traveled all over before that, establishing himself as a live player in intimate settings. Coffeehouses? Natch! His bio mentions an early passion for Pete Seeger and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, though I agree that his songs and delivery (i.e. vocal approach) are nearer to the warm eccentricity of Michael Hurley and the Holy Modal Rounders. I don’t want to imply that he attains the same heights of quality of those two exponents of Old, Weird Americana, though these 13 songs, which are selected from his book of around 500, are consistently enjoyable and they get out-there without affectation. These selections were reportedly recorded in Hatfield’s studio over a span of a few years. I’m thinking a more concentrated session would put an album of his stuff right over the top. B+

Eve Maret, Stars Aligned (Whited Sepulchre / PRAH Recordings) If I was played this record and then asked to guess the artist’s home city, I likely would’ve said, NYC, or Los Angeles, or somewhere in the UK, or maybe even Berlin; I’m certain I would not have offered Nashville, TN. Now, if I’d checked out her prior record, No More Running, when it came out early in 2019, I would’ve been already hip to the situation, which is that Maret is dishing a vivacious blend of electronica and synth-pop, and with an emphasis on positivity and at times, outright fun, rather than the chilly aloofness that regularly accompanies recordings of this type. But don’t get the idea that Maret’s not serious, as it’s clear, even in the pop-oriented vocal numbers, that she’s onto something interesting. But to these ears, it’s in the instrumentals, especially the swirling tech of the title cut and the 10-minute guitar infused standout “Impressions,” that showcase her strengths most effectively. I do like her lack of hesitation in combining the pop-inclined stuff with passages reminiscent of driving while Hearts of Space is on the radio. B+

Pallbearer, Forgotten Days (Nuclear Blast) Formed in 2008 in Little Rock, AR, this doom metal four-piece are releasing their fourth LP and first for Nuclear Blast, the German metal specialist label extant since 1987. It’s a good fit, as Forgotten Days is a strong album, heavy but not hackneyed as the band integrate touches of the atmospheric and even keyboard/ synth textures into the equation. Oftentimes, when metallic outfits undertake expanding the palette, the results are stiff or shallow (if well-intentioned), but Pallbearer are experienced hands at such maneuvers, so this long album, with a length of 54 minutes (released on 2LP), flows and never flags. Pallbearer are as much about songs as driving force thud, though don’t think they’re not hitting hard (see portions of closer “Caledonia”). Also, Brett Campbell is a singer, rather than screamer, growler or belcher, which works for these songs and works for me, because he avoids getting emotionally overwrought. Hey, it also helps that the vocals aren’t mixed too damned high. They also spread out nicely, with “Silver Wings” a 12-minute highlight. B+

Steph Richards, SUPERSENSE (Northern Spy) The vinyl (transparent red or black) and CD editions of this set aren’t available until December (exact date TBD) but the digital is out Oct 23. This is particularly of note as the physical copies of the latest record from NYC-based trumpeter Steph Richards comes with a scratch-and-sniff card. To elaborate, Richards was thinking about the stimuli one gets from live performance, elements that are diminished or absent while listening to a recording, and then set about creating an album that would work toward closing the gap, so to speak. She did so by tapping multimedia artist Sean Raspet to create some “singular, abstract scents” and then weaving them into her writing. Next, she grabbed pianist Jason Moran, bassist Stomu Takeishi, and drummer Kenny Wollesen, creative heavyweights all, to play the score. As they did, everyone was instructed to open numbered boxes, take a good whiff of Raspet’s smells, and then improvise.

That accompanying card is designed to extend this experience to the home listener, which is more than just a swell gesture, it’s a crucial step in an inspired concept followed through to its completion. Richard did want to present the whole multisensory shebang in live performance, but Covid-19 has thrown a wrench into the works of that plan. But hey, that makes this record’s physical manifestation even more worthwhile, as we’re far from out of the Coronavirus woods. Those with a liking for experimental-avant jazz-improv can order a copy, and then come December, partake in some scratchin’, some sniffin’, and some listenin’, and then reflect on the multifaceted nature of the endeavor. But on a purely aural level, this is still quite the fulfilling LP, for as said, the players are amongst the best in the contempo progressive jazz scene. Additionally, Moran prepares his piano, Wollesen brought his homemade percussion rig (aka Wollesonics), and Richards, already a robust blower, utilizes an array of mutes and even plays underwater. Altogether, I think fans of John Zorn’s ’80s work will find this to their liking. A-

Fadi Tabbal, Subject to Potential Errors and Distortions (Beacon Sound / Ruptured) Lebanese musician, producer and sound engineer Fadi Tabbal played guitar exclusively on his four prior solo albums, but for this one he adds tape loops, voice samples and synth to productive effect. For much of the duration, this results in ambient drift that’s similar to Pan•American, Stars of the Lid and other acts from the early years of the Kranky label, but there are also aspects that sets Tabbal a little bit apart, such as the loop of Julia Sabra’s wordless vocals at the beginning of album opener “The New and Improved Guide to Birdwatching Vol. 1,” which situates an avant-experimental aura at the start, and the string trio in an echo chamber reverberations of finale “The Sidewalk At Night,” though that one does culminate with more sonic glide. Also noteworthy is Tabbal’s sound contributions to theater and film, which illuminates the subtle tension heard in “On the Escape Boat.” Elsewhere on the record, Sabra’s voice (she’s on three of the seven selections here) helps bring a human element to darkly machine-like cycles. Impressive. A-

Lake Turner, Videosphere (Kompakt) The London-based Turner was previously a member of Great Eskimo Hoax and Trophy Wife, groups categorized in the PR as post-punk and indie oriented, but for his solo debut (well, other than a lathe cut 12-inch that came out in 2018 in a limited edition of ten copies) he’s taken a turn for the electronic, with an approach Kompakt describes as “lush ambient-disco-techno.” Spending time with Videosphere’s nine tracks, which total a concise (especially for techno) 38 minutes, I’m not going to quibble with that assessment. Not even a little bit. But I will offer that Turner, who is not breaking any new ground here, does have a satisfying relationship to genre tropes, which is to say, that in largely circumventing tired moves, he’s come up with an engaging LP, one that, I suspect, would sound fine on the dancefloor. I know from experience that it connects well in the home environment while listening on headphones and sitting in an office chair; across the set, subtleties effectively surface. Jayne Powell’s vocals in “No Way Back Forever” are a definite plus, as well. B+

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