Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2021, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2021. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: M. Caye Castagnetto, Leap Second (Castle Face) The Peruvian-born Castagnetto has lived in Lima, London and Twentynine Palms, CA, a reality that’s reflected in the uncategorizable nature of their debut album. That is, unless the category is “beautifully unusual.” Well, one could call it psychedelic folk, for there are vibes both druggy and uh, folky, but with the distinction that the combo doesn’t really conform to the recognizable psych-folk standard. Indeed, there are stretches that aren’t folk-inclined at all. They’re just spectacularly fucked (e.g. “Slippery Snakes”), which underscores how Leap Second doesn’t conform at any norms.

Upon reading the observation from Bjorn Copeland (he of Black Dice) articulating a similarity to Sun City Girls, I was excited, and after giving this set a few spins, I am definitely in accordance with the sentiment. His and others’ citing of Nico hits home, as well. I’ll also mention that this album evolved over the span of five years, though it doesn’t strike my ear as belabored. But neither does it sound slapdash. It’s also sample-based (of musicians playing, not of pre-existing records) without sounding like that, either. Accomplished and enigmatic yet inviting. A-

Palberta, Palberta5000 (Wharf Cat) New Yorkers Ani Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg, and Nina Ryser, who together comprise Palberta, have been at it for a while now, kicking into gear around 2013 to be specific, with Palberta5000 their fifth full-length by my count (I’m not including the live cassette or the split LP with No One and the Somebodies, Chips for Dinner). As the band acknowledges, they burst forth from a love of punk, and with their angular art edges they regularly brought to mind UK post-punk (think Rough Trade) and NYC dance punk (OG style, a la ESG and Liquid Liquid).

But for this set, they’ve admitted to an increasing interest in pop. But don’t worry. The sharp corners are still in evidence, it’s just that the vocal sweetness (often in harmony) has been intensified and the songs, have gotten longer (the same thing happened with Wire and the Minutemen). Well, some of them anyway (“I’m Z’done” is z’done in 18 seconds). At a few spots, I’m reminded of Bratmobile, which is always a good thing. “All Over My Face” is rich of voice and a punky body mover delivering the penultimate standout. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Gordons, S/T & “Future Shock” (1972) Formed in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1980, The Gordons have long been lumped into their home country’s storied Flying Nun saga, though there are a couple of distinctions to be made. The first is that the trio’s debut EP (from ’80) and eponymous LP (from the following year) were initially self-released, not landing on Flying Nun until their reissue in ’88 in connection with the formation of Nelsh Bailter Space, which after a shortening of the name and a few personnel changes (including an exiting Hamish Kilgour of The Clean) ended up featuring the original lineup of The Gordons—that is, Alister Parker (guitar, bass), John Halvorsen (bass, guitar), and Brent McLachlan (drums, percussion).

The second difference worth mentioning is in how The Gordons stood stylistically apart from the groundbreaking melodic rock/ indie pop variations that have come to define the “classic” Flying Nun sound; this might have something to do with why they weren’t on the label in the first place. The 3-song “Future Shock” 7-inch is caustic, throbbing, ranting punk with songwriting as smart as the atmosphere is thick. The churning angularity of “Adults and Children” is the standout, but all three tracks are total keepers.

It’s a superb appetizer for the LP, which is, bluntly, terribly underrated and years ahead of its time. To call it post-punk feels simply reductive, partly because the punk intensity hasn’t lessened, it’s just been expanded upon in a manner that is in line with the underground rock bands that emerged in the latter half of the decade. One could also consider them as peers of Mission of Burma and Sonic Youth. These releases were previously reissued separately on wax (“Future Shock” as a 12-inch) and combined on CD. 1972 is putting out a 7-inch (how “Future Shock” was initially released) and a full-length LP, but packaged together, i.e. not sold separately. You’re gonna want them both. A

Azure Ray, S/T (20th Anniversary Edition) (Flower Moon) I’m sure there are folks who think of Azure Ray’s dream pop as being primarily a byproduct of the Saddle Creek label scene circa the 2000s (as spearheaded by Bright Eyes and deepened by Cursive, The Faint and others). And this assessment isn’t incorrect, as Orenda Fink and Maria Taylor are an established part of that equation. But before they pulled up stakes and moved to Omaha, NB (from Athens, GA), they cut a pair of albums for Warm Electronic Recordings.

This eponymous Eric Bachman-produced set was the first, reissued by Taylor’s label on vinyl here for the first time, with a recently unearthed extra song from the album sessions tacked on as a digital bonus track. To my ear, the contents have held up rather well, which is impressive as they were largely crafting a soundtrack for melancholy late night lonerism. They achieve success by avoiding the overly fragile as the bowed strings aren’t laid on too thick. They do maintain consistent tenderness (the bonus “Witches” is almost too assertive, so it’s no surprise it was set aside), with the guitars lending an occasional aura of introspective indie folk. I do find the programmed rhythms of “Rise” to be out of place, but it’s far from a dealbreaker. B+

Pearl Charles, Magic Mirror (Kanine) Charles’ second LP comes to me heralded as a departure, and since I was unfamiliar with the sound she is shifting away from, I took a step back and then sauntered right up to Sleepless Dreamer. Some of what I heard reminded me of Olivia Newton-John if she’d emerged from the Laurel Canyon, or maybe if it’d been Olivia who’d joined Fleetwood Mac instead of Stevie, but then bailed after one album to cut a solo rec in ’78. Other parts are more singer-songwriter-ish country-pop, but the constant reality is that Sleepless Dreamer is an unfettered pop statement. That means Charles getting all ABBA-ed up during Magic Mirror’s opener “Only for Tonight” is a bold maneuver, but not a total shock.

What is surprising is how she pulls it off so well and then doesn’t lessen the effect by trying for a repeat. Much of what follows is more in line with her first set (there’s a lot of pedal steel), so Magic Mirror effectively drives home her musical personality, which is so unabashedly (retro-’70s) pop that if she weren’t such an appealingly confident singer and solid writer, the record would likely be off-putting. I’ve no doubt her pipes will hold up, but I’m hoping the songs do too. B+

Fields of the Nephilim, Elizium (Beggars Arkive) I’m going to confess that my experience with this ’80s-early ’90s UK Goth act is rather limited, though I certainly did hear them as a teen, as my crowd was populated with a smattering of folks smitten with cobwebs and belladonna. Don’t get the idea I was averse to the style, but by the late ’80s Bauhaus was kaput, Siouxsie was still active but increasingly less interesting, and the younger generation of Goth acts, which included Sisters of Mercy, The Mission UK and indeed, the very band under consideration here, simply weren’t pulling the bell chain in my haunted belfry. By 1990, which is when Elizium, Fields of the Nephilim’s third and final studio album from their initial phase was released (they’ve since reformed), I’d all but entirely tuned out.

Beggars Arkive reissued Elizium early last month, but my plans to undertake a belated consideration were promptly waylaid by the sweep of activity the season brings. I’d thought about spending time with the band’s prior two full-lengths (’87’s Dawnrazor and ’88’s The Nephilim) in addition to this one, the better to ascertain an improvement or a degradation leading to their hiatus, but unfortunately that didn’t come to pass. I did give this set a proper number of spins, however.

My assessment: better than expected, certainly more consistent, and notably lacking in any over-the-top qualities one might anticipate given the band’s unwavering commitment to what can be described as a dystopian Western image (complete with wide-brim hats and duster coats that were visibly dusty). There is no shortage of dark mannerisms in leader and sole constant member Carl McCoy’s vocals, but instrumentally, the band nods as often to hard rock as to post-punk, and to their credit without losing track of the atmosphere that helps define the Goth genre. I would’ve liked more grit and less Alt-era smoothness, though. B

The Luxurious Faux Furs, Like a Real Shadow (Mandinga) Drummer-singer Jessica-Melain and guitarist-singer Josh Lee Hooker are the Luxurious Faux Furs, having formed in NYC and then traveling down to New Orleans, which is frankly a better fit for their swampy, grimy, punkish blues. This album and a prior 45 are released via a Brazilian label specializing in garage rock, so the duo’s sound is traveling well. There is mention of a glam-rock component in the Faux Furs’ (de)construction, but listening to this album, which serves as my introduction to their thing, the glam aspect mainly relates to their snappy dress sense.

Many will observe the Furs’ resemblance in size of personnel and in gender makeup to a certain defunct act from Detroit, and by extension, some will decry blues-bashing punked-out duos to be overdone, but in my estimation, when the impulse clicks, it clicks good. During the almost Gibson Bros.-like hill blues damaged “Joe Bird,” it clicks real good here. B+

V/A, Tokyo Dreaming (WEWANTSOUNDS) This 2LP/ CD set features electro, synth-pop, funk and ambient from late ‘70s-early ’80s Japan, with the selections culled by Japanese music expert Nick Luscombe from the catalog of the Nippon Columbia label and its noted subsidiary Better Days. Opening with Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “End of Asia” from his Thousand Knives Of album (recently reissued by this same label), the sequence jumps around chronologically as well as stylistically, and I’ll admit that the City Pop and synth-pop entries please me far less than the more experimentally inclined pop excursions such as Kyoko Furuya’s “Tokyo.”

In craven ’80s terms, Tokyo Dreaming hits its nadir with Kazue Itoh’s “Chinatown Rose,” but it’s directly followed by Kazumi Watanabe’s electro-disco cover of Bryan Ferry’s “Tokyo Joe,” which is made more palatable through weirdness. As is the case with so many thematic various artists comps, much of the best stuff is programed late, such as the zonked dub of Akira Sakata’s “Room” and the horn-laden art-pop of Yasuaki Shimizu’s “Semi Tori No Hi.” A whole record maintaining side four’s level of quality would’ve been a major thing. B

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