Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2021, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Danny Kroha, Detroit Blues (Third Man) Kroha is a founding member of garage-punk monsters The Gories, an outfit who are sometimes tagged as a punk blues affair, which points us to a crucial ingredient in the sound served up here. To expand, Kroha’s second solo album interweaves early blues and old-time country with touches of hokum and then gives it an early ’60s folk scene polish that’s doubly reflected in the record’s sleeve design, which surely is intended to evoke the look of the folk and blues labels of that era (think Prestige, Riverside, Elektra, etc.). What’s nice is how Kroha’s sound holds up as much more than a well-intentioned homage. Indeed, his treatment of the source material, much of it familiar, heads into some unpredictable areas, like a version of “House of the Rising Sun” that sounds like the handiwork of Dock Boggs. Also, along with washtub bass and jug bass, Kroha plays a diddley bow (aka one-string guitar) on one track. This strengthens a Motor City connection, specifically in relation to fellow (homemade) diddley-bow specialist One String Sam. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Lilys, A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns (Frontier) & The 3 Way (Sundazed) Formed in Washington, DC in the late 1980s with singer-songwriter Kurt Heasley as the sole constant member, Lilys’ existence resists easy categorization. Having started out as a disciple of My Bloody Valentine, that changed pretty quickly in ’94 with A Brief History, which was released by the SpinART label as a 10-inch mini-album (following up debut LP In the Presence of Nothing). The shift was toward melody, as Lilys became a more forthrightly pop-rocking affair while keeping tabs on the distortion. The change is exemplified by “Jenny, Andrew and Me,” which is a bit like Yo La Tengo’s contemporaneous stuff, though the song’s title (I do believe) references Jenny Toomey and Andrew Webster of the band Tsunami, a connection that helps to situate Lilys as integral to the Slumberland-Simple Machines-SpinART ’90s indie constellation. For those building a shelf of the stuff, this expanded 12-inch is an essential component. Pink vinyl pre-order is sold out, but the black wax retail remains. A-

A Brief History is the third Lilys record to get the reissue treatment from Frontier, joining the debut album and ‘94’s other Lilys record, Eccsame the Photon Band. However, Heasley and company’s 1999 effort The 3 Way, initially released by Sire, is getting reissued through Sundazed on 2/26, which is quite fitting as the record and the label share a decided ’60s inclination, which bursts forth in opener “Dimes Make Dollars” as garage-like in comportment but wastes no time in shifting toward sunshine-tinged post-Beatle psych-pop in “Socs Hip,” and then nudges up against The Zombies in “Accepting Applications at University.” Comparisons have been made to Ray Davies, and I do occasionally hear that, but the comparison isn’t as strong in my ear as it is for some other listeners. For me, the more salient similarity is to Anton Newcombe (with whom Heasley has collaborated) except with more of a baroque pop orientation, which is wholly welcome in my book. There is still plenty of fuzz, though. A couple spots are striving a little too hard for a ’60s-encompassing range, but overall, this is a minor quibble. A-

Fleeting Joys, Despondent Transponder (Only Forever Recordings / Diggers Factory) Sacramento, CA shoegazers Fleeting Joys debuted with Despondent Transponder in 2006, releasing it on CD and then, roughly five years later, giving it a vinyl press in a hand-numbered edition of 300 on white wax. That small amount sold out quick. Subsequently, copies have changed hands for over $100, with CDs even going for $50, so the band hooked up with Diggers Factory to offer a fresh run of 300, this time on purple splatter wax. Don’tcha know this edition is effectively sold out as well, though I do see a few copies still available in stores online, so if your bag is MBV-style shoegaze with a twist of dream pop, and you haven’t already jumped on a copy, you might want to check with your local shop first, and then start poking around the web, because who knows when the next edition will come out. 2026? Maybe. Rorika Loring’s vocals really heighten the dream pop angle here, which helps to separate Despondent Transponder from the pack a bit. Ultimately, this is a very likeable debut, but it’s not quite amazing. B+

Bodies of Water, Is This What It’s Like (Thousand Tongues) This is the fifth full-length from this Los Angeles-based outfit, and also the first in three years, though I’ll confess that it serves as my introduction to their stuff. Extant since (at least) 2005, what was once a five-piece is down to four as three participants exited the scene after the last Bodies of Water record (Spear in the City) to be replaced by two. Meredith and David Metcalf are the remainers, with founding member Kyle Gladden returning and frequent helper Alice Lin joining in full. The sound is Adult Pop with a touch of sophistication, featuring shared Metcalf lead vocals and an intermittent dancy rhythms. David mentions that his songs were influenced by ’60s-’70s Arabic pop music and ’50s-’60s Euro-US non-R&R (a la Jacques Brel and Shirley Bassey). Regarding the latter, this does reinforce the Adult aura, but it’s not like Is This What It’s Like is a throwback. To the contrary, the whole is highly contemporary, and as all the instruments were played live, it exudes warmth that’s timeless. Meredith’s singing is also quite jake. A-

The Cavemen, “Am I a Monster?” b/w “Schizophrenia” (Pig Baby) Garage-punk maulers The Cavemen came together as high-schoolers in Auckland, NZ, debuting on 45 in 2014, with an eponymous full-length following the next year. In December of 2015, they relocated to London, which isn’t always a successful move for Down Under bands, though it seems to have worked out okay for The Cavemen, as they’ve knocked out three more LPs and a roughly a half-dozen 7-inches, of which this is their latest. Prior to hearing The Cavemen a few years back, I anticipated something in the neighborhood of The Cramps (perhaps it was the Auckland connection) but no; ragged, torrid raw-throated punk pummel is the band’s forte. One could tag it as descended from the Killed by Death-subgenre, except that The Cavemen exude a muscular velocity that was a bit beyond many of the KBD bands (and is in fact heftier than a considerable percentage of garage stuff in general). These tracks are well-practiced for maximum impact but without a hit of polish. Which is how it should be. B+

Mark Feldman, Sounding Point (Intakt) Feldman is noted for his versatility, having played rock in bar bands in Chicago, county in Nashville (touring with Loretta Lynn and Ray Price), jazz and avant-garde music in NYC and recording with Placido Domingo, Diana Ross, and Carole King. I’ve heard him on a bunch of records over the years, including faves Tim Berne’s Fractured Fairy Tales and Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz, plus many releases from John Zorn, who released Feldman’s first solo violin recording (his debut as a leader) Music for Violin Alone on his Tzadik label in 1995. This is only Feldman’s second solo effort, though it’s not like he’s been slacking in the meantime. To be sure, copious activity has sharpened the man’s abilities so that extended portions of this set are showcases for advanced (occasionally extended) technique in service of an energetic, at times passionate, personal expression. This is to say that Sounding Point is a heartfelt experience. It is also located at the intersection of composition and improvisation and features a wonderful version of Ornette’s “Peace Warriors.” A  

Good Willsmith, HausLive 2: Good Willsmith at Sleeping Village, 4/25/2019 (Hausu Mountain) Good Willsmith is Natalie Chami, she of the terrific TALsounds, with Max Allison and Doug Kaplan, they who co-operate Hausu Mountain, along with playing together in BBsitters Club, The Big Ship, and The Earth is a Man. The trio has put out a slew of cassettes on Hausu plus three LPs on the Umor Rex label, including Exit Future Heart, a collab with Dustin Wong and Takako Minekawa. Neat. As the title communicates, this is a live recording, captured from the audience I do believe, and released on tape in glorious homemade style like an item found on a well-stocked merch table. The sound integrates aspects of psych, ’70s Germanic synth action, and even touches of prog (mostly in the guitar solos), but with a unifying focus on rock. Still, Good Willsmith glide and pulse more than they rip, and that’s just fine. “The Burning Orphanage Sidequest” gets plenty agitated, however. The second in a live series (HausLive 1 is from the Sunwatchers, also recorded in 2019). Effective as a taste of Good Willsmith to come. B+

Wobbly, Popular Monitress (Hausu Mountain) Based in San Francisco, Wobbly, aka experimental electronic musician-composer Jon Leidecker, has been active since the mid-1980s, producing numerous solo releases and collaborations with such notables as Dieter Moebius, People Like Us, Fred Frith, Zeena Parkins, and Matmos. In 2011, he joined Negativland, and has contributed to Thurston Moore’s Spirit Council and By the Fire. On this follow-up to his prior Hausu Mountain release Monitress from 2019, he is once again running pitch trackers and synth apps through his mobile phones and tablets, with the trackers and apps converting what they hear (sounds prepared ahead of time by Leidecker) into melodiousness, with rhythm. As stated by Leidecker, this time out the focus has moved to tunes over improv and abstraction, hence Popular in the title, though one shouldn’t construe this as a commentary, meta or otherwise, on Pop. It’s far more interestingly strange, but often catchy, yes, perhaps like the pop that’ll be heard decades from now on Mars. Available on CD and cassette. A-

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