The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Full Moon Fever (Turntable Kitchen)
The latest installment in Turntable Kitchen’s series of releases featuring artists covering a full album of their choice is one of its most curious: The Pains of Being Pure At Heart tackling Full Moon Fever, the 1989 solo effort by Tom Petty. It’s a novel, unexpected choice for the band considering their core sound, but it’s also one that doesn’t make for the most gentle transition to a shoegaze/dreampop format. The otherwise sturdy songs have been made wispy and empty at their core, with even The Byrds’ “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” turned into something dippy and fey. The key downfall is Kip Berman’s vocal performances throughout. He didn’t need to try and replicate the twang-y tones of Petty but Berman makes the wrong choices throughout. He opts for his breathy croon when he should growl, and growls when he should get dreamy. It upends the more inventive moments like the band’s rendering of “A Face In The Crowd” as a synthpop dance classic and “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own” as Beatles-esque blues. A pleasant diversion that will only inspire revisits to the Petty original. Maybe that was the point all along.
Xymox – Twist Of Shadows (Pylon/Republic)
The third album by the Dutch darkwave project Xymox was the group’s commercial breakthrough. As much as a single charting in the lower rungs of the Billboard Hot 100 can be considered a breakthrough. For this band, though, those small movements in the market were huge, justification for the trio moving in a more radio-friendly direction akin to fellow synth-heavy groups like New Order and Depeche Mode. This new vinyl issue was spurred on by renewed interest in the group’s work thanks to some well-received recent tours and a reignited interest among the record collectors of the world in post-punk and dreampop. This fine pressing and remaster of this gem of the post-punk era folds in b-sides and remixes from the era, including the lilting “Senses Coalesce” and the more industrial-leaning “Shame.”
Glen Campbell – Sings For The King (Capitol)
Your first job when opening up your copy of this collection of scratch demos that songwriter Glen Campbell made for Elvis Presley is to skip right past the first track. “We Call On Him” is a lovely gospel tune, but the folks putting this together decided to digitally fuse together the Campbell recording with Presley’s take on it to “hear…how the two superstars would have sounded together,” according to the press notes. It’s an unnecessary bauble in the mode of those egregious albums that layer a symphony under the work of the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison. Everything else about this collection is fantastic as Campbell and the Wrecking Crew knocked out fine, if occasionally rough renditions of songs that Elvis would eventually record (many of them landed on the soundtracks for movies like Clambake, Stay Away, Joe and Easy Come, Easy Go) and some that the King rejected. The unheard material is the draw here and does not disappoint, falling right into the swinging and soulful pop vibe of the ‘60s. It’s a shame that Presley and his people shot down some of these songs as he would have made hay of a brilliant ballad like “Anyone Can Play” or the hip swivelin’ tune “Love On The Rocks” (not the Neil Diamond classic, FYI). As fun to listen to as it is to imagine what the King could have done with some of the tunes that didn’t make the cut.
Various Artists – The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions (Craft Recordings)
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Panart Studios and the record label of the same name was the epicenter for Cuban music in Havana. It was through that imprint and that recording studio that now-venerated artists like Jose Fajardo, Celia Cruz and Daniel Santos achieved their first blushes of acclaim outside the shores of their island home. At the same time, there was also some demand by American fans to capture the spirit of the late night jam sessions that went on at clubs around Havana. That’s, in part, what spurred on the release of this five volume series of albums, now being reissued in a handsome boxed set by Craft Recordings. Recorded mostly at Panart in one-off sessions, these aren’t as loose and heated as some of those after midnight gigs could get but the buoyant pulse and joy of the music is apparent throughout, infectious as ever some 60 years after the fact. It’s near to impossible to play favorites on this set, but the spirited piano solos on Volume 5, a spotlight disc for Fajardo and his All Stars and the 17 minute track that kicks of Volume 2, with key contributions from percussionists Oscar Valdes and Jesus Ezquijarrosa (known better as Chuchu), are particular highlights.
Semisonic – Feeling Strangely Fine (Geffen)
Dan Wilson has been responsible for an impressive number of pop tunes in recent years, earning a Grammy award for his work with Adele on 21 and landing writing credits for everyone from Taylor Swift to former One Direction member Niall Horan. But way back in 1998, he had his first commercial breakthrough as the singer and guitarist in the alt-rock group Semisonic and their Top 20 hit “Closing Time.” Technically, that does land this project as a one-hit wonder, but, as this double LP reissue of their 1998 album Feeling Strangely Fine attests, these guys had tunes for days. Tucked away in the back half of this record is the fist-pumping power pop marvel “All Worked Out” and the chiming ballad “She Spreads Her Wings.” Appended to this re-release are a handful of equally worthy b-sides that show off more rock-centric sensibilities from the band and the kind of pop chops that helped Wilson earn his current status as in-demand songwriter. In time, this will get recognized as a lost classic.
Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s – Not Animal/Animal!/Vulgar In The Chapel – The Animal!/Not Animal Demo Recordings (SRC Vinyl)
The story behind the 2008 releases by Indiana indie rockers Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s goes, in short, like this: the band had been signed unceremoniously to a major label and set about recording their first record for Epic with producer Brian Deck. The sessions proved so fruitful that they had more material than they knew what to do with. But band and label couldn’t agree on what should be released. They compromised and released two albums at once, one with the songs Epic picked; the other with the band’s choices. These three vinyl releases attempt to re-tell that story and flesh out the details a bit with the inclusion of an album of acoustic demos made by the band’s leader Richard Edwards.
Truth be told, there isn’t that big of a divide between the material on the studio albums, as they both are played with the kind of conviction and emotional openness that we demand of every young rock band these days. The choice of Deck as a producer was a canny one, though, as his fingerprints feel evident throughout, little psychedelicized touches that expand this band’s palette in ways they might not have reached on their own. The demo LP is the more interesting document, giving fans a chance to hear stripped down renditions of favorites like “I Am A Lightning Rod” and “Carolyn & Heathcliff.” Edwards had most everything well in place for the then-forthcoming sessions; he just needed the rest of band to bring the tunes from black and white to color.
Nick 13 – Nick 13 (Sugar Hill/Craft Recordings)
Psychobilly outfit Tiger Army always felt like an anachronism; this nitro-burning band fronted by a dude with a strangely sweet voice, floating above the music like a blue cloud. It sounds great, but singer/guitarist Nick 13 felt even more at home on his lone solo album. Released in 2011, the self-titled venture is a perfect vehicle for his tender spirit and heartbroken, hard living lyricism, with a rambling country/folk backdrop that makes ample use of co-producer Greg Leisz’s pedal steel and featuring some vital contributions from Nickel Creek fiddler Sara Watkins. This vinyl reissue is a bit of an anomaly as it is not tied in with any kind of anniversary or big celebration. All it does is bring the record back into print after a five-year hiatus. Not that there needs to be a reason, as this pleasant laidback affair is a welcome addition to the library of any fan of old school country and the Tiger Army fanatic. It’s also a reminder of what an achievement this still feels as Nick doesn’t lean on a bunch of cover tunes or just simply reconfigure songs from his day job. Everything on here is freshly written and a sheer delight to boot.
Thurston Moore – Klangfarbenmelodie…And The Colorist Strikes Primitiv (Glass Modern
The solo discography of Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore is littered with limited run work released on small indie labels amid his more blue chip LPs like Psychic Hearts and Demolished Thoughts. This 1995 recording of the guitarist making a free form racket with drummer Tom Surgal, for example, was originally issued only on CD in New Zealand by Bruce Russell of The Dead C. Did this need to be brought to a larger audience by U.K. label Glass Modern on a white vinyl pressing? Maybe not but we should still celebrate it. Moore is as great an improviser as he is a songwriter and this explosive session is all the proof you’ll need of that. He sticks to a series of ringing tones, peppered with small sprays of feedback that builds and recedes with intensity as the mood and Surgal’s drums strike him. By the end, during the closing piece “Phase II,” he’s releasing little notes and squalls while the drums take control and drive them both toward infinity. Follow them into the light, brothers and sisters.
Michael Hurley – Living Ljubljana (Feeding Tube)
Though the loping, loopy folk artist Michael Hurley had been making tunes since the ‘60s, it took until 1995 for him to venture overseas and play some shows in Europe. What took him there was his album Wolfways, released on the German label Veracity, and it found him joined in his first international adventures by drummer Mickey Bones and bassist Robert Mitchener. This particular gig was, as the title tells us, recorded in Slovenia and it finds Hurley in particularly fine form, ambling with a loose joy through a batch of tunes that, while they were originally recorded in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s feel like they were beamed in from his late ‘60s heyday. He’s one of those rare artists that continues to stick to his musical vision no matter what is going on in the world around him. The only difference here is the strength of his voice and the electric thrum of his guitar. He was feeling the spirit on this fine Slovenian eve.
Pylon Reenactment Society – ”Messenger”/”Cliff Notes” (Chunklet Industries)
Through their on-again/off-again existence, the post-punk band Pylon may not have found the commercial success of their Athens, GA compatriots R.E.M. and the B-52’s, but their wiry dance funk sound has continued to carry forward, influencing the likes of Le Tigre and LCD Soundsystem. And while the original lineup will forever be shattered due to the untimely death of guitarist Randy Bewley, vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay has, since 2014, keeping the group’s legacy alive with her project Pylon Reenactment Society. Until now, this outfit has been content to play the music of Pylon, but this week they are releasing their first bit of new music with a 7” single featuring two freshly written jams. Both are very much in keeping with the original Pylon spirit, with the agitated rhythms of “Cliff Notes” sitting nicely alongside the glowering “Messenger,” and Hay’s vocals sounding like she hasn’t lost a step in the four decades since she first stepped onstage at the 40 Watt Club with Bewley, Curtis Crowe and Michael Lachowski.
Bauhaus – The Bela Session (Leaving)
With the 40th anniversary of the first recording session by Goth-adjacent post-punk band Bauhaus coming along in January, it’s little surprise to see an uptick in activity surrounding the band. Their former label Beggars Banquet has been re-issuing key bits of their discography recently, and there is a big tour coming finding vocalist Peter Murphy and bassist David J joining forces to celebrate their former band’s music. Into the pot comes this new bit of wax offering up every tune that Bauhaus laid down during their first time in the studio. Likely if you’ve picked this up, you’re familiar with the a-side, the classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” so hurry to the b-side which features an early version of “Boys” (the song that would eventually land, in re-recorded form, on the flipside of their first 12” single), an early version of “Lagartija Nick” credited here as “Bite My Hip” and “Small Faces,” a tune that ranks as one of the peppiest, poppiest things the quartet ever recorded. They clearly had an eye on a complete vision but were dealing with some blurriness on the road to the dark, dubby sound they achieved through their short time together.