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 boxed set of The Velvet Underground’s classic recordings, a collection of poetry from Beat legend Allen Ginsberg and a rare R&B classic from the Stax archives.
The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (Polydor/Republic/Universal)
Chances are if you fancy yourself a Velvet Underground fan, you already have vinyl versions of all the albums in this set—the four official LPs by the band, Nico’s 1967 solo debut Chelsea Girl, and 1969, a two-disc compilation of tracks scrapped by the band for a potential third record—sitting in your record library. The appeal of this limited edition collection is for new fans, completists and any curiosity seekers who’ve always thought about picking up VU’s work but have yet to pull the trigger. For the folks in the last group, this set is worth every penny. In one fell swoop, you get a perfect overview of what Lou Reed and Co. did in their relatively short time together. There’s a reason these albums remain so influential; the building blocks of modern psychedelia, noise rock, alt-country and garage pop are all here, pressed onto nice 180-gram vinyl. Mostly nice. Your mileage may vary but the copy of the group’s 1969 self-titled album that I received for review was partially pressed off center, with the oblong grooves having a more marked effect as it turned the last tracks on side A into warbly messes. That is the exception, however, as the rest of the LPs in the set sound varying shades of good to great. The best, though, is the 1969 set that blends together original versions of the material with new mixes with no drop in sound quality or dynamics from one to the next.
Wild Child: Expectations (Dualtone)
How does an artist turn a simple album release into something more collectible and fun? For the Austin-based indie pop group Wild Child, it’s by releasing the vinyl edition of your latest LP in four different color variants, each one only available at select record shops in four different Texas cities. San Antonio fans get translucent purple, folks in Houston get coke bottle clear, Dallas gets translucent green and Austin gets butter-cream-colored records. Savvy completists with lots of gas money and time to burn can pick up all four, if they so desire. The record is certainly worth that kind of effort. The fourth album by this octet is a lived-in, enjoyable ride that holds together impressively well for a collection of tunes recorded in fits and starts all over the world and with various producers (Chris Walla, Dr. Dog’s Scott McMicken and Max Frost, among them). All that comes down to the pitch-perfect songwriting of co-leaders Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins, who capture the thrills and agonies of modern romance and modern living with warm clarity.
Veruca Salt: Eight Arms to Hold You (Geffen/Universal)
After scoring an unlikely crossover hit in 1994 with bubblegum grunge classic “Seether,” Veruca Salt gratefully refused to follow up their debut album American Thighs with a dozen rewrites of that still-righteous tune. Instead, they knocked out a loud EP recorded with Steve Albini, and Eight Arms to Hold You, a glammy sophomore effort produced by Metallica’s best buddy, Bob Rock. The sweetness of guitarist/vocalists Louise Post and Nina Gordon’s voices remained but, musically, they grew a new set of fangs and were out for blood. The latter recording is getting a fresh vinyl release this month, years after the original edition went quickly out of print. And even on colored wax (a limited edition version pressed in orange), it sounds ideal for the format. Somehow they managed to squeeze eight songs on one side and seven on the other—including b-side “Good Disaster”—with only a slight drop in bass response and overall volume. The band should be thankful for that, too, as these are songs that deserve to be heard with as much heat and force behind them as possible.
Allen Ginsberg Reads Howl and Other Poems (Craft Recordings)
The authors and poets who made up that loose collective known as the Beat Generation deserved to have their work performed live and committed to vinyl. The swing and fire in their work, or in the case of William S. Burroughs, the unmistakable drawl and lilt of his voice, sounded great out loud, like the jazz tunes that inspired so much of their writing. So it was that Allen Ginsberg, two years removed from the obscenity trial surrounding his magnum opus Howl, committed a reading of that poem and several others to tape for the Bay Area label Fantasy, who released it on vinyl in 1959. Nearly 60 years later, Craft Recordings has brought that record back into print via this deluxe edition release which lovingly recreates the original LP (right down to the choice of clear red wax) and includes a glossy picture of the poet, a booklet featuring liner notes from Beat Generation scholar Ann Charters, a re-creation of a card announcing the first reading of the work and, tucked into a little recess in the box, a copy of Ginsberg’s first book, Howl and Other Poems. It’s a marvelous little set, and a tastefully designed one at that. The exterior of the box has a quaint tweediness to it, and the interior features lines from Howl printed as if from a typewriter. The recording itself is as intoxicating as ever. Ginsberg’s performance of Howl is clearly driven by the fact that he was reading in front of an audience at a festival in Chicago, and it’s all the better for it. He sounds, at times, inflamed and blissed out. The studio recordings, made a few months later in San Francisco, are no less wonderful, but the gas is turned down just so and it feels as if he’s reciting instead of acting. No matter how they are presented, Ginsberg’s words still sting and thrill, even at a remove of six decades.
Klaus Schulze: La Vie Electronique Vol. 1.0 (One Way Static)
With so many reissue labels looking to canonize as many of the early synth explorers as they can, it’s a wonder that it took someone this long to look into the career of Klaus Schulze. The former member of iconic Krautrock groups Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, the German artist is one of the key vertebrae that make up the backbone of modern electronic music with his vast compositions of drone and fluttering ambient melodies often using a Minimoog. He’s also someone who is not averse to celebrating his own work. His discography is littered with multi-disc sets compiling chunks of his career. This reissue from One Way Static is just one of multi-part series that commits to vinyl the first installment of his La Vie Electronique series, originally released on CD in Germany in 2009. The influence of Schulze’s work and that of his contemporaries on modern artists like Matthewdavid and Gregg Kowalsky only comes clearer when heard like this. There is nothing within these flowering, honeyed compositions to tie them to the period between 1968 and 1971, when they were recorded. The tracks on the second LP, subtitled Tempus Fugit, come closest to connecting with music of the era, as they reside under the influence of Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air. The rest sound not so much singular as they do elemental, as if Schulze had a direct link up to the harmony of the spheres.
Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Edition) (Craft Recordings)
In March of 1957, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, on tour as a member of Max Roach’s group, was offered some time to record an album for Contemporary Recordings in California. In response, he crafted a rough concept centered on the desert land of the Golden State and his love of the cowboy films of Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson. That spirit inspired not only the selection of songs like “I’m an Old Cowhand” and “Wagon Wheels,” but Rollins’s choice of instrumentation, laying down the tracks with a spare piano-free rhythm section (drummer Shelly Manne and bassist Ray Brown) that sonically evoked the wide-open spaces of the West. The 60-year-old album that came out of this one-day session, Way Out West, has been reissued on vinyl in a handsome boxed set that includes a second LP of alternate takes from the session and charming little snippets of studio banter. Sourced from the original analog tapes, the record sounds spectacular. The clear and precise work by reissue producers Nick Phillips and Mason Williams puts you as close to the music as possible; it’s as if you’re in the control room of the Contemporary Studio alongside original producer Lester Koenig. The music deserves such treatment. Rollins is in peak form cutting a line between romanticism and a jester-like spirit, and Manne and Brown cooly work against and with him.
Martin Newell: The Greatest Living Englishman (Captured Tracks)
Captured Tracks has gone the extra mile in recent years reissuing the work of The Cleaners From Venus, the jangly, jagged pop project of singer/songwriter Martin Newell. But until now, they hadn’t delved into Newell’s equally important solo work. This week sees the vinyl-only re-release of The Greatest Living Englishman, the 1993 album that he recorded with kindred pop spirit Andy Partridge of XTC. The sessions came at a great time for both men, as Newell needed someone to keep him on task and push him to try a little harder at songwriting, and Partridge was stuck in limbo waiting to get released from Virgin Records. Englishman burbles with that misfit toy spirit. Nearly everything on it was played by Newell and Partridge, including the latter’s perfectly rough drumming to match up with the former’s just-enough in-tune vocals and starry-eyed, tea-stained lyricism. It has the natural looseness that only the great artists come by honestly. And Newell is as honest as they come.
The 24-Carat Black: Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth (Stax/Craft Recordings)
As Craft Recordings combs the archives of Stax Records for their recent run of reissues, they’ve unearthed some pretty impressive treasures, including one of the greatest one-and-done projects of all time. The 24-Carat Black was a daring group led by Dale Warren, an arranger and songwriter who had helped add the sweeping grandeur to some of Isaac Hayes’s best ‘70s albums. Built from the Cleveland soul ensemble The Ditalians, this project was groomed and rehearsed and given this sweeping “musical on vinyl,” as drummer Tyrone Steels calls it in the liner notes. The result of their Herculean effort is like a prog rock/R&B hybrid with complex time signature and song structures to match a rough storyline following the trials of folks living below the poverty line. Overly ambitious for its time, the album was quickly swept aside (it didn’t help that the group split up not long after playing a show to promote this LP) but became a sought-after rarity by crate diggers and beat-makers. This newly released reissue of Ghetto should open up a new lane of inspiration for a generation of producers that will hopefully help create some equally bold and socially conscious works of art. Goodness knows it’s what the world needs more than ever right now.