Record Time is Paste’s monthly column that takes a glimpse into the wide array of new vinyl releases that are currently flooding record stores around the world. Rather than run down every fresh bit of wax in the marketplace, we’ll home in on special editions, reissues and unusual titles that come across our desk with an interest in discussing both the music and how it is pressed and presented. This month that includes a reissue of a hip-hop masterpiece, some fresh jazz from a young visionary and a handful of psych rock gems.
When news of the 2008 Universal Studios fire broke, The Roots’ co-leader and drummer Questlove tweeted a link to the New York Times story with the comment, “For everyone asking why Do You Want More and Illadelph Halflife won’t get the reissue treatment…” According to him, the old reels from those sessions were turned to ash in that blaze. Which makes the breathless announcement of a reissue campaign celebrating those two albums and the group’s fourth LP Things Fall Apart feel rather suspect. Did safety copies get unearthed? Were these already underway before the story dropped and Questlove is making a preemptive apology if the reissues sound awful? There’s been no clear answers, but at least we know that the band was heavily involved with these. The new version of Things Fall Apart boasts essays from Questlove and the group’s main MC Black Thought, as well as track-by-track commentary from the former. Unlike some UMe release of late, this reissue sounds damn great. The masterful production work by the group and their cohorts, including the late J Dilla and future superstar Scott Storch, was fine on its own, but the remaster takes away some of the compression and beefs up the low end appreciably. What it is missing is any truly alluring bonus tracks. The new pressing adds on previously released remixes and b-sides from the era, which fleshes out the story just so. The details are in the booklet and the magic is the grooves of each LP side. This was, up to that point, The Roots’ masterpiece and, two decades later, it still sounds like the future of hip-hop.
Originally released in 1983, the debut from L.A. quintet The Rain Parade was one of the defining statements of what became known as the Paisley Underground, a loose association of artists that bore the heavy influence of ‘60s psychedelic pop and rock. And of the groups that fell under that umbrella, the Rain Parade was the one that sought a more authentic version of that sound, with dreamy tempos, Farfisa organs and wispy singing a la The Zombies and Love. The nine songs of Emergency, pressed on a nice slab of fiery colored wax by Real Gone Music, are a full blown drift through the far reaches of the psych universe. Led by brothers Steven and David Roback (the latter of whom would go on to greater commercial success with Mazzy Star), the group employs repetitive grooves and free-floating guitar solos that mask their deep instrumental skills and a talent for homage that could have fooled some heads into thinking this was a vintage recording. Were it not for the clearer sound and the modern keyboards at play, that is.
The bright neon pink color that Mondo chose for this soundtrack reissue may be garish, but it’s entirely appropriate to reflect the cartoony world that the characters in Roger Rabbit inhabit and the cartoony music created by Alan Silvestri for this landmark film. Even if it looks ridiculous spinning on the turntable. Silvestri uses this gig to pay tribute to Looney Tunes composer Raymond Scott, the romantic sweep of movie music from the ‘40s and jazz from the same era. Mondo has done their typically great work in bringing this back into circulation with sharp, colorful artwork and a cute insert that replicates a love note from Roger to his beloved Jessica. You have to love this movie to really appreciate the whole package, but that’s exactly the audience for this release. And those folks that do adore this? They’re gonna drool over this.
Since the late ‘70s, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs have been the gold standard for producing audiophile quality vinyl pressings of new and older albums. It’s the kind of above-and-beyond effort that has inspired thousands of people to upgrade their stereo systems and spend stacks of cash on fancy turntables. In other words, the type of folk that would hopefully read this column on the regular. The latest entry into their vast discography is a new edition of a love-it-or-hate-it bit of soft rock by Bread. Released in 1972, it bumped the L.A. quartet into a new tax bracket thanks to its hit singles “Everything I Own” and the ubiquitous title track that were, for a few years, staples of AM radio. Outside of those wispy ballads, the band dug into some Loggins & Messina-like blues-rock that made great use of newest member Larry Knechtel’s keyboards and their sharp vocal harmonies. Do I need to mention that this record sounds great? Every last detail of these warmly conceived and performed songs comes alive on this pressing. With the right stereo, the music becomes mesmeric and luscious. Enough to make someone who has flipped past this record a million times in used bins and thrift shops (read: me) become an instant convert.
By this point in the career of The Cult, the British-bred group had finally sloughed off all vestiges of their post-punk past and we’re settling into a comfortably successful run as a straight-up heavy rock group. And who are we to judge them for it? They had one of the great belters of the last millennium in Ian Astbury and the versatile guitar work of Billy Duffy. Why not get into the studio with Bob Rock and pound out a throbbing glam metal record? Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Beggars Banquet is unleashing a new version of the album, in a deluxe package boasting a three LPs, a cassette and ephemera and a fairly bare bones double disc set with the original album and a few bonus tunes. As lunkheaded as some of these tunes are, they sound appropriately filthy on this new vinyl pressing. Rock’s often brutish production works for these tunes, emphasizing the thud of the drums and Duffy’s psych-blues antics. The Cult found themselves on this album and never looked back.
As creepy and unrelenting as Jordan Peele’s sophomore directorial effort was, the soundtrack did it no favors, landing a little too much on the nose with its musical odes to the scores for The Omen and The Devil Is A Woman. The surprises came in its use of pop music: “I Got 5 On It,” “Fuck Tha Police,” and the brilliant drop of Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs” in the closing moments. Divested of the film, the music feels a little better, setting a spooky mood that will work well to keep trick or treaters on their toes this coming Halloween. Otherwise, this vinyl release (pressed onto noisy sand-colored wax) is only for the students of horror film lore and collectors of soundtracks. The casual listeners need not apply.
The Nurse With Wound List is the stuff of music geek lore. The rundown of obscure experimental, prog, psych and jazz artists from around the world obsessed over by Nurse With Wound co-founder Steven Stapleton was included with copies of that band’s debut album. And it has been a lodestone for record collectors and music geeks for some four decades. Finders Keepers has finally hit upon the perfect way to pay tribute to the NWW List by starting a series of releases that breaks the list down, compiling one track each from the artists that hail from the same country. They kicked it off this month with a focus on France, and for fans of left-of-center sounds, it’s an embarrassment of riches. The only fairly recognizable name is that of composer/musician Pierre Henry with a taste of a horror soundtrack he made in the ‘60s. The rest are deep underground acts like the skronky space swingers Red Noise, the jazz-folk eruptions of Etron Fou Lelouban and the woozy prog dreams of Mahjun. This is the gateway to new dimensions. If you dare, step inside.
The expectation for artists of a certain age is that, in spite of any new material they may still be pumping out, they need to look to the past for the sake of their fanbase. It can often be a zero sum game of tours focused on a single album or modern reinterpretations of their previous catalog. Appropriately enough for an artist who wrote a bold tune called “Diamond In The Rough,” Shawn Colvin found a way to both pay heed to her past and keep the results artistically interesting. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of her debut Steady On, she has re-recorded the album with just voice and acoustic guitar. This new release is a testament to her ever-growing abilities as a guitarist, as she strips the lush arrangements of the originals down and finds a minimalist warmth within. And it makes no apologies for how her voice has changed in three decades, giving a weathered, broken in quality to each one. At times, that is almost startling. “Stranded” expressed a deep ache in its original version; here, it is nearly unbearable, with no production help to ease the weight of her words. The vinyl version is a noisy one, but Colvin, as ever, breaks through the static.
Maybe it was the presence of Benjamin Wallfisch or simply the achingly gorgeous images conceived by Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins. Whatever the reason, veteran film scorer Hans Zimmer reined in his more grandiose qualities in service of a fantastic film. The two men paid kind tribute to Vangelis, the composer who handled the music for the first installment of Blade Runner, while adding modern touches and drones that spoke to the even bleaker tone of the sequel. The overdriven synths and moments of stark emptiness that they bring to the score is an immersive and unavoidable wave of beauty and sensory input. Mondo’s vinyl pressing of this soundtrack, however, pulls you out of this reverie with lots of surface noise and grooves that can’t seem to handle the music’s heavy low end. (The lovely but unnecessary colored wax does it no favors either.) A score like this deserves better.
Bill Orcutt has spent the better part of his career taking the guitar to the outer reaches. It’s a journey that only true masters of an instrument can make safely and steadily. Which is potentially why to the untrained ear, his work in Harry Pussy and in duos with Chris Corsano or Okkyung Lee sounds like a unhinged racket. A clearer understanding of what Orcutt is capable of can be found on his latest solo effort. He plays the role of a traditionalist but on his own terms. A traditional blues ramble is left short and jagged, jazzy beauty turns brutish and volatile and his pensive moments are pulled apart by quick bursts of notes and the amp settings that give a harsh edge to the louder moments. What is evident throughout is the control Orcutt maintains through every moment. An easy path would have been to rely on noise and effects pedals to make a so-called statement. As serrated and blurry as his playing gets, Orcutt never loses sight of his mission, returning to its foundational melody and mood. If you have an itch to introduce a curious but tenuous friend into Orcutt’s vast and staggering sound world, start here.
Supposedly, the braintrust behind Vulcans, a group that included producers Webster Shrowder and Desmond Bryan, were attempting to cash in on the sci-fi craze of the early ‘70s by creating a batch of trippy dub-leaning reggae tunes augmented by some futuristic synth melodies played by British keyboardist Ken Elliott. They were greeted instead by commercial indifference. Since its release 1972, the record has become a cult favorite, sought after by reggae lovers and collectors of odd sounds. After far too long, Star Trek is finally getting a proper vinyl reissue through Real Gone Music and the label has treated the music with a welcome level of care and concern. All the better to appreciate what a weird clash of ideas this was. Elliott meshes his synths in with the otherwise fairly traditional reggae tunes; never dominating the focus, but serving as an extra bit of spice and color. The crew of Jamaicans responded to the possibilities of the ARP 2600 by writing some truly silly tunes like “Dracula” and the groovy synth showcase “In The Moog.” This reissue is limited to 1,000 copies, so you’d better act fast before they vanish.
As much as Blue Note Records has been directing much of its energy toward paying tribute to the stars and albums of its past, the label, under the guidance of Don Was, is still keeping an eye on the future, signing new talent like the vibraphonist Joel Ross. A major presence on albums by other young artists like Makaya McCraven and Marquis Hill, he is making his first foray as a bandleader with Kingmaker, joined by a sparkling ensemble that includes key contributions from saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and the marvelous bassist Benjamin Tiberio. Their collective work occupies a space where the past and present gently connect; where easy to swallow bop is touched by splashy, forward thrusting playing and the influences of electronic music and modern hip-hop. The skip and jump rhythmic approach of “Is It Love That Inspires You?”, for example, could have been lifted from a Squarepusher single, and the ballads throughout bear the mark of fellow vibraphone masters like Milt Jackson and Roy Ayers. And the arrival of vocalist Gretchen Parlato on the delicate “Freda’s Disposition” inspires the rest of the band to go even harder, even as the rest of the music tries to pull them into more diaphanous territory. They need to rise to her level. The song is also the most direct echo of the album’s theme of family. Ross dedicated this collection to his blood relations but the music feels like a full embrace of his chosen clan of fellow artists and musical strivers.
Maybe you heard this Bay Area psych rock outfit on one of the dozen or so compilations that cherry-picked tracks from their sole full-length. Or maybe you’ve heard vocalist/guitarist Gary Yoder and guitarist Dehner Patten from their time in a late period lineup of Blue Cheer. Those moments should prepare you well enough for the glorious span of their self-titled album, originally released to little acclaim by Epic Records in 1969 and now brought back to life by the Portuguese label Mad About. In a just world, this record would be spoken about with the same awestruck tones as Love’s Forever Changes or the first Quicksilver Messenger Service album. The fried lyricism is of a piece with that era, as was the group’s interest in Eastern sounds and spirituality. But there’s something about the execution that takes the music even further beyond that of their contemporaries. Maybe it’s just Patten’s guitar work, which has a terrifying precision and punch that John Cipollina approached but never fully achieved and Chris Lockheed’s drumming that presaged the tumbling complexity of the prog era to come when it was settled into a comfortable choogle. This is the stuff that crate digging dreams are made of, now available at a reasonable price.
Last month, I featured the second release from besom presse, an L.A.-based publishing house that is also gifting the world with albums of experimental music and sound art. The imprint was kind enough to send along their first LP, a double-disc set of work from composer and instrument maker Werner Durand and a bunch of his equally talented friends. Recorded over the course of four years in Durand’s home studio in Berlin, these four long pieces are built around drones made by sine wave generators, saxophones, and some of his homemade reed instruments. What rhythms exist come from colliding overtones and the pulses created by Victor Meertens hammering an electric guitar. Some of the instrumentation adds a touch of Asian influence to the proceedings, but otherwise this material exists outside borders and genres. It’s a graphic score built around the movements of Jupiter’s gas clouds or an oozing cry emanating from deep within our own planet’s core. Durand and co. have captured something so elemental in these four side-long pieces that they are finding resonance in the space dust that exists in all of us. Let it vibrate you.