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 reissues of late ‘60s demo recordings by David Bowie, a massive boxed set of John Coltrane material, a crucial ‘90s neo-soul album and one of U2’s peak recordings.
prathermade Vinyl Storage
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you likely have a small or large collection of records at home. And no matter what the size of your personal library, the question of how to store your LPs becomes a serious concern. Milk crates? IKEA shelves? Stacked up in a dusty corner of the apartment? A handful of companies have arisen in recent years offering up a more stylish solution to this particular problem, and one of the best that we’ve seen is prathermade, a family-owned operation based in Ohio. The couple behind it design and craft shelves, stands and display ledges that are as lovely to look at as the big 12” sleeves you’ll soon fill them with. And they take seriously the impact of their work, making sure to only use small businesses local to them for supplies and offsetting their efforts by donating 1% of their profits to the National Forest Foundation. Their storage solutions aren’t cheap, but considering what you get in return, it’s a completely worthy trade off.
The Zombies: The Complete Studio Recordings (Varése Vintage)
The Zombies’ time within the swell of the British Invasion was short-lived and ill-fated. One of their biggest chart successes—”Time Of The Season”—came after the band had already broken up. And during their brief six years together, the original lineup yielded only a pair of albums and a smattering of singles. Yet, heard in total, as you can now do via this tremendous five-LP boxed set, the quintet’s discography proves to have a much higher batting average than the rest of their cohorts in the ‘60s pop universe. The trick, as with The Beatles, was to have no less than three fine songwriters in their midst: keyboardist Rod Argent, bassist Chris White and vocalist Colin Blunstone. All three men helped the group move quickly past the abundance of R&B covers that made up their 1965 debut album (this set features the U.S. self-titled version of that LP, which omits/replaces a number of songs putting the lie to the “Complete” claim of this set’s name) into more musically and lyrically complex territory. The firm proof of that lay in the original lineup’s final album together, the unqualified masterpiece Odessey & Oracle. It was there that The Zombies allowed their starry-eyed love songs to sit next to the psychedelic joys of “Hung Up On A Dream” and a deeply felt tune about the plight of a WWI vet (“Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914)).”
Joining those two full-lengths in this collection is a repressing of a compilation released in The Netherlands and Japan that pulled together a bunch of assorted singles tracks and two other compilations that aim to plug the other holes in the discography like the inclusion of the three songs the band recorded for the 1965 psychodrama Bunny Lake Is Missing. The key is that, with those last two discs, one features all the stereo recordings, the other all in mono. A minor detail, maybe, but one that gives them both a clean, consistent sound. Same goes for Zombies and Odessey, the former rendered in mono and the latter in stereo. For fellow enthusiasts of The Zombies, I’m happy to report that the set boasts one of the best sounding pressings of Odessey that I’ve ever heard, with a full low end and a spectacular midrange. It does justice to the acuity and richness of one of the peaks of the ‘60s rock universe.
David Bowie – Spying Through A Keyhole: Demos and Unreleased Songs (Parlophone)
Hitting the 50th anniversary of 1969, a year when many seminal albums and singles were released, means we’re going to be seeing a wealth of archival re-issues and lavish boxed sets over the next 12 months. Which makes this new David Bowie collection feel like a surface scratch in comparison. The boxed set tucks nine early recordings from the future Thin White Duke on to four 7” singles. Many have been bootlegged and anthologized in the past, but the appearance of a couple of unheard tunes make up for the often shoddy sound quality on display (Bowie was an aggressive acoustic player on these demo tracks). Rough as they are, these tracks provide a crucial bridge between his fanciful recordings from the mid-’60s and the earthier, more thoughtful material that would comprise Man of Words/Man of Music and his breakthrough single “Space Oddity” (found here in two demo forms). It doesn’t fully complete the picture of this era, but at least helps clarify that Bowie had his songwriting well in control and set for the good things to come.
Prince – 3121/Musicology/Planet Earth (Legacy/The Prince Estate)
As the estate of the late musical polymath Prince has been doing a pretty commendable job figuring out what to do with his vast discography thus far, with the wonderful deluxe reissue of Purple Rain in 2017 and, this month, bringing a trio of his ‘00s era albums to vinyl for the first time. Purple vinyl, natch. These records represent the period of Prince’s career when he was dipping his toes back into the water of the major label system, and they also prove to be another creative high point for Mr. Rogers Nelson. Musicology, originally released in 2004, and 3121 from 2006, are delightful and cohesive records, with the former bearing the deeper influence of hip-hop (which, here, results in some bass fuzziness on certain tracks) and the latter giving him the right space to get sassy, sexy and sultry from song to song. Not all the songs are perfect, but his batting average was higher here than it had been in years. 2007’s Planet Earth, on the other hand, takes far too long to find its stride. Even with the welcome return of Revolution members Wendy and Lisa and Sheila E., the tunes feel underbaked. That is until the trio of songs—”Chelsea Rodgers,” “Lion Of Judah” and “Resolution”—that close out the album, which feels like a marathon runner putting that final kick in to get over the finish line. It’s a small suite that allows his religious faith and his body-centric intentions to coexist without either side suffering as a result.
Snow Patrol – When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up (Jeepster)
To celebrate the band’s 25th year of existence, Jeepster Records is releasing Snow Patrol’s second album on vinyl for the first time. It’s a small gesture but one that serves up a nice reminder of the days when the band was a humble trio, getting assists from their fellow Scots in Belle & Sebastian, and long before “Chasing Cars” shot them into a different tax bracket. The music, therefore, is almost entirely lacking in the bombast of their more recent work, set instead with the simple goal of making emotional pop that had the pungent odor of post-punk’s ever-reliable influence and a healthy dose of shoegaze to help hide the stench. The blend is a potent one, as far from the twee jangle of their B&S buddies and the darker explorations of their fellow labelmates as they could get. This new vinyl version comes with a bonus 7” single on gold wax featuring two unreleased jams that nestle into the same comfy sonic zone and should have fans grinning madly with joy.
John Coltrane – Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings (Craft Recordings)
Traversing the discography of John Coltrane can be a treacherous journey. For example: though he recorded a wealth of material while under contract with Prestige Records in 1957 and 1958, much of it wasn’t released until he had left the label for Savoy and Atlantic. So, many of the recordings from those late ‘50s sessions didn’t come out until years later, and Prestige kept finding novel ways to repackage and reissue them for years to come. This new eight LP set that is about to be released by Craft Recordings aims to wrestle together all the work the great saxophonist did in 1958 through sessions he did with Rudy Van Gelder with future superstars like Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell and Freddie Hubbard. Arranged in chronological order according to the session dates, this massive and handsomely appointed set is a wonderful deep dive in this early part of Coltrane’s career as a bandleader and sideman, even if he doesn’t reach the dizzying heights that he reached a year earlier with Blue Train and two years later with Giant Steps. The bulk of these recordings feel simply like he is in practice mode, trying out various combinations and styles to see if they fit. That resulted in pleasant tunes like the 18 minute “Sweet Sapphire Blues,” which is dominated by Byrd and pianist Red Garland, and conflagrations like “Goldsboro Express,” a Coltrane hard bop original where he’s backed up only by bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor, which gives him plenty of room to vamp and swing. The joy of a set like this is being able to track Coltrane’s artistic progression from the start of one year to its close. In fact, these eight discs work like bookends as the first was taken from a session in January of ‘58 and the last comes from December. The differences over a 12 month period are subtle but a close listen reveals some extra muscle strength driving the session and improvisation at the end of ‘58, as well as some melodic decisions that presage his modal period. Combined with the illuminating liner notes from Coltrane biographer Ashley Khan, the music in this set is a treasure.
The Gun – Gun (Real Gone)
Born from the ashes of a British garage band called The Knack, The Gun was a proto-metal/psych rock powerhouse that existed for the shortest of whiles, but long enough to produce two beloved albums of paint peeling guitar work and compositional complexity that would help fuel the prog movement that was on the horizon. Their self-titled debut, released in 1968 and brought back to vinyl through a limited reissue on Real Gone Music, is the product of a gloriously ambitious band that dared to throw everything they had at this recording, bringing in strings and horns and wild-eyed arrangements that stretched their abilities as players to their absolute limits. How they keep the entire album from tumbling into oblivion is one of the great wonders of the psychedelic rock era. This new pressing does a fine job of bringing its daring to life even with the unnecessary colored wax that, on my copy anyway, had a small warp that gave the early tracks on either side a small bump.