Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2021, Part One

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, Arc Mountain (Hausu Mountain / Deathbomb Arc) This release, a benefit with all profits going to the Last Prisoner Project (a nonprofit committed to cannabis criminal justice reform), features artists from the Deathbomb Arc and Hausu Mountain labels in collaboration, with the cassette released by Hausu Mountain and the CD by Deathbomb Arc. Contributors include Dustin Wong, Margo Padilla aka I.E., They Hate Change, J Fisher, Fielded, Signor Benedick the Moor, TALSounds, Angry Blackmen, George Chen, Jonathan Snipes, White Boy Scream and more, with particularly heavy input from Fire-Toolz and Khaki Blazer. The contents range from wild blasts of underground hip-hop to varied strains of avant-pop to bent electronics to noisy soundscapes, with some instances of overlap and the uniting bonds being the liberating spirit of experimentation and a clear disdain for the soul-sucking rigidity of norms, both musical and societal.  Upon repeated listens, the gripping assemblage of twisted teamwork (mostly twos but a couple threes) coheres into a larger statement of considerable power. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: BMX Bandits, Star Wars (Last Night From Glasgow) Headed by sole constant member Duglas T Stewart and with input on this album from Francis McDonald and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub and Gordon Keen and Eugene Kelly of Eugenius (Kelly was also in The Vaselines), BMX Bandits are one of indie pop’s finest cult bands, but with a refined blend of kindheartedness and twee tendencies that inspired many to reject them. Although there is a sense of the awkward in Stewart’s vocals (which has resulted in comparisons to Jonathan Richman, though they don’t sound alike to my ear), it never comes of as a mannerism, and that’s cool. What definitely not awkward is Stewart’s songwriting, which blossoms beyond the standard indie pop jangle. One example is “Extraordinary,” (sure to drive twee-haters up a wall), which sounds a little like young Dan Treacy if he was heavy into Nilsson and bubblegum pop rather than Syd Barrett. And instrumentally, the flare-ups of baroque strings remind me a bit of Big Star’s Third. And that’s just dandy. First time on vinyl outside of Japan. A-

V/A, Made to Measure Vol.1 (Crammed Discs) As part of Crammed Discs’ 40th anniversary, here’s a reissue on vinyl and compact disc of the inaugural entry in the Belgian label’s series dedicated to music that either could’ve been or deliberately was made as a soundtrack to other artforms, e.g. film, theater, dance, and even a fashion show, as is the case with this album’s track by Benjamin Lew, “A la recherche de B.” The other contributors are Minimal Compact, with four tracks commissioned for live dance; Aksak Maboul, with the album highlight “Scratch Holiday,” supposedly crafted (with a turntable, a ’60s pop 45, and orange marmalade) to soundtrack a movie, and six tracks intended to accompany a theatrical play; and Tuxedomoon, with three cuts composed for a documentary film. The guest violin by Jeannot Gillis (of Julverne and Univers Zero) for Minimal Compact, who are sequenced first, lends an appealing circularity, as Tuxdeomoon (and violin) close side two. But in fact, as the record plays, the sound is quite unified as it stirs thoughts of Rock in Opposition, Ralph Records, and early ’80s avant-pop in general. A-

Telex, This Is Telex (Mute) The best way to experience Telex is probably by soaking up one of their songs in a larger mix of material, like during some cat’s late night college radio show, in the midst of a friend’s mixtape, or as spun by a DJ in a club while waiting patiently for the headliner. Over the years, I’ve heard a few people opine that Telex was a novelty act, a conclusion drawn essentially because of their penchant for interpreting the material of others in the then nascent electronic pop style. I disagree. Taken individually, Telex’s songs are frequently pleasant, partly through catchiness but also due to the enduring appeal of their formative aura. But when heard sandwiched between the songs of others, Telex sticks out, largely because they were operating with a different sensibility. The trio’s versions of “La Bamba” (included on this LP/ CD compilation) and “Rock Around the Clock” (which isn’t, giving hopes for a follow-up volume) underscore the non-angsty ’50s-ish R&R spirit they brought to the scene. But there’s more to Telex, like a sweet version of Sparks’ “The Number One Song in Heaven.” A-

The Allergies, “Lean on You” (ft. Dynamite MC) b/w “Working on Me” (Jalapeno) Rackabeat and DJ Moneyshot are The Allergies, based in Bristol, UK and specializing in party-rockers with a foundation in hip-hop, marinated in funk and infused with crackling samples to solidify the old-school flavor. The duo also has an affection for 7-inch vinyl, with a handful of their sizable stack of singles already covered in this column; as the quality remains high, here’s the latest. Another recurring aspect of The Allergies’ thing is the guest contributions, and this isn’t their first time collaborating with UK rapper Dynamite MC, who flows wonderfully here across a track combining banging drums, throbbing bass, wiggling guitar samples and even some scratching in the cut’s waning moments. A guaranteed crowd rouser, it pairs well with a flip that’s destined to egg the dancefloor into a frenzy, but with a surplus of looped guitar funk spiked with soulful horns that’s sure to satisfy those dudes standing over in the corner with their arms folded looking stern. Oh hey, look out, they’re starting to bob their heads… A-

Fears, Oíche (TULLE) Based in London but hailing from Dublin, Fears is the recording and performance moniker of Constance Keane, with Oíche (which means night in Irish) serving as her debut album. Keane’s sound is electronic, but song based, and with acoustic samples that bring clarity to the description of her music as electronic folk. That should not be construed as a throwback to 1990s folktronica however, foremost because the material is bright and lean and ultimately resonates as contemporary. Speaking of the ’90s, there are a few hints of techno along the way, but more common are those sturdy song roots, which avoid both synth-pop and dream pop atmospheres, though there is an unstrained prettiness to her singing that would be well-suited for both styles. Hey, maybe later. Of the five recording locales utilized for Oíche, three were bedrooms, a situation that helps keep the vividness of Keane’s approach from getting too polished. But Domino Recording Studio in Brixton was also used, which illuminates the full-bodied nature of the whole. B+

Maria Muldaur with Tuba Skinny, Let’s Get Happy Together (Stony Plain) The scoop is that Muldaur, who’s been active as a singer since the early 1960s, was so taken with the sound of New Orleans-based trad jazz-blues-ragtime band Tuba Skinny that she sought a collaboration on stage in NOLA, which led to the recording of this CD. As Muldaur got her start in jug bands (the Even Dozen Jug Band first, followed by Jim Kweskin’s outfit), it’s a seamless fit. Muldaur’s voice is as strong, warm and lithe as expected, and when combined with the sharpness of Tuba Skinny’s playing (somewhat startling, as they are a band of youngsters), the songs cohere into an embodiment of the era (essentially the 1920s, with a heavy emphasis on the Crescent City) rather than just serving up a re-creation. Still, if an enjoyable time, the disc would ultimately be no big deal, except for the extra layer of goodness delivered by Muldaur’s song choices for the album. While the selections are mostly New Orleans-derived, she avoided the predictable mainstays very nicely, so that the whole never really registers as a covers set. B+

Round Eye, Culture Shock Treatment (Paper and Plastick / Sudden Death) This Shanghai-based US-expat band’s third LP (there are also a couple of split releases spanning back to 2013) lacks the saxophone of Stooge Steve MacKay (RIP) and the yakking of TV horror movie host Joe Bob Briggs, both heard on their 2017 album Monster Vision. But with production by Mike Watt and solid mixing from Bill Stevenson of the Descendents, the level of quality hasn’t slipped. I called their last one inconsistent, but the tracks here seem to hang together a little better, though in ranging from speed punk to art-punk to surf rock to beefed-up pub rock (and this doesn’t even cover all of it), they are unlikely to manage a sustained high quality line. This only strengthens their punk bona fides, however. Like their last one, Culture Shock Treatment’s vinyl is coming out on Sudden Death, the label of DOA’s Joey Shithead, a connection that reinforces an unshakable Alternative Tentacles vibe to the proceedings. To put a finer point on it, I’m reminded more of the Feederz and NoMeansNo than the Dead Kennedys. B+

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