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 collaboration between two brilliant outsider artists, fresh music from a Swedish “adventure rock” group and a reissue of a ‘90s pop-punk classic.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of their first album, Seattle alt-rock trio the Presidents of the United States of America undertook a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign to help officially bring their self-titled debut to wax. (There are some dodgy bootlegs on the market if you know where to find them.) How successful? They blew past their $25,000 goal within an hour of the page going live and wound up with over $325,000 to use for a remastered version of the record pressed on nausea-inducing green vinyl. I believe this will be widely available at some point, but for now it remains a backer exclusive. And those 6,605 lucky souls that supported the cause will be treated to a nice transfer of the PUSA’s herky-jerky pop-punk that hasn’t lost an ounce of its lean, giddy energy. I would love to hear what this sounds like a black vinyl as the marbled wax does carry with it a noticeable amount of hiss and rumble. Luckily the loud interplay of Chris Ballew and Dave Dederer’s understrung guitars and drummer Jason Fine’s cocktail kit tends to push that into the background and can probably be EQ’d down on a finer stereo.
As the story goes, folk artist Robbie Basho recorded a pair of albums for New York label Vanguard Records in the late ‘60s that didn’t sell particularly well and got shunted to cutout bins. But what no one knew until just a few years ago was that during the sessions that yielded Basho Sings and The Falconer’s Arm I & II, Basho recorded an album’s worth of other material that languished in the Vanguard vaults until their catalog was acquired by Concord Music in 2015 and folks started digging. Those songs were finally given an official release this month by Real Gone Music, pressed to two pieces of clear wax that allow for better fidelity and a better chance to hear Basho’s thundering acoustic guitar work and his trilling vocals that call to mind Melanie or the days when ANOHNI was known as Antony Hegarty. A good chunk of this material was re-worked for later Basho releases, but it is still exciting to hear them in their nascent form. And the previously unheard work here are little treasures. I’m particularly taken with “Song of the Great Mystery,” a solo instrumental that builds and recedes like a thunderstorm briefly taking over an expanse of land, and “The Butterfly of Wonder,” a delicate tune that melds Basho’s interest in Native American culture, the environment and the droning beauty of music from the East.
Out in Sweden, a quintet of long hairs has been cultivating a potential new genre that they have dubbed “adventure rock.” What does that mean to the laity? From the sounds of the group’s latest album Conundrum, it’s synthtastic heavy rock that doses psychedelia with the mood and ambition of pure prog, topped off with album art that looks like the cover of a particularly sweet issue of Heavy Metal and lyrics cribbed from Terry Brooks’ cast offs (“In a fortress cursed by dark sorcery/Built by hands of the victim of fire”). Which is to say: the kind of music that you should use to re-score your umpteenth screening of Return of the King or soundtrack your next smoke session under a black light. Would I like a little more muscle and gravel to the music a la Kvelertak or Vektor? Sure, but that’s a problem of my dumb brain. Conundrum is retro at heart but thoroughly modern music that works best on vinyl, what with its gatefold sleeve and a perfect balance of tones that gives ample room to appreciate every blistering guitar solo and squealing keyboard run. And it affords plenty of time to take a break from bong hits to turn the album over.
Jimmy and Dennis Flemion, the brothers known as the Frogs, made fans of everyone who came into contact with their music, including Billy Corgan, Wendy & Lisa, and the folks who ran Twin/Tone Records who, after seeing the pair play a show in 1985, offered to help release their debut album. The session that the Flemions recorded for that intent never saw official release as Dennis was displeased with the sound. Some 35 years later, Jimmy has helped clean up the tapes and re-released it on vinyl with a batch of bonus tracks from earlier in the band’s tenure. These tunes set the Frogs’ template, shrinking the bombast of arena rock down to one smoke-filled garage and filling each song with wicked wit and punk-informed confrontational humor (sample tracks: “The Kennedys Killed Monroe,” “Good Morning, Christian Son”). It would be absolute shambles if the Flemions weren’t such incredible musicians. Each track is a mini masterclass in rock songwriting and, with any luck, will serve as the template for further generations of musical strivers.
Half Japanese co-founder Jad Fair and the late Daniel Johnston are/were utterly fearless, unafraid to let their primitive musical ability and warbly voices stop them from trying to achieve pop stardom. It’s little wonder that they were pals and collaborated off-and-on throughout their careers—a mutual admiration society of creative outcasts. This two-LP set further expands on the first time Johnston and Fair joined forces. Originally released in 1989 and reissued twice on CD with additional material (and re-titled It’s Spooky by Johnston), the album is back on vinyl. The audio has been cleaned up considerably by Kramer (ex-Bongwater), pressed on white wax with an additional track and a flexidisc of Daniel performing a song live for a short film made by Jad’s brother and bandmate David. Even in its spiffed up form, these tracks still feel raw and unbound—joyous, spontaneous blurts that recount acid trips and trying to hang with Roky Erickson alongside their shared love of songs about monsters and love and the songcraft of such wizards as the Beatles, Burt Bacharach and Butthole Surfers. The world will never see the likes of Fair and Johnston again so it’s a pure delight to continue celebrating those times when they jumped in the sandbox together and made a wonderful mess of things.