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 deluxe reissue of a ‘60s classic, a collection of rare disco sides and new instrumental hip-hop and cosmic electronic music.
A freshly minted reissue of The Band’s debut album, released as celebration of that record’s 50th birthday, was an absolute guarantee even before it was announced a few months’ back. It’s one of the most venerated rock records of the Woodstock era, analyzed to the level of work by Bob Dylan, the artist that this Canadian-American group backed for his first electric tours. And hearing it even today, the love for Music From Big Pink feels entirely justified. The Band crystallized a sound that groups like The Byrds and the Grateful Dead had been wrestling with for years: a muscular production informed by blues, soul, folk and country (a.k.a. the roots of American rock) that stayed true to all of the above genres and felt sharply original.
This new collection blows up the sound of Big Pink to THX levels via a stereo remix by beloved engineer Bob Clearmountain. To drive the point home, they’ve split the original LP up over four sides of vinyl to be played at 45 RPM. Clearmountain’s touch is surprisingly tasteful at times, emphasizing the album’s copious bottom end driven by Rick Danko’s fluttering bass lines, Levon Helm’s kick drum and the swarming organ parts played by Garth Hudson, while adding a healthy gleam to the whole thing. But when his hand gets heavy, it injects a feeling of sterility to some of the most vibrant sounds to come out of the ‘60s. And not just the strange injection of some studio chatter between a few tracks. “The Weight,” inarguably the best known song from this disc, feels pulled apart like taffy, losing much of the spirited energy of the original mix. The same goes for the two Dylan tunes (“This Wheel’s On Fire” and “I Shall Be Released”) that wrap up the album. Hudson’s clavinet interjections lose their quaint charm and become almost obnoxious and The Band sounds less like a band and more like a bunch of studio players seeking a paycheck instead of musical enlightenment.
Over the past couple of years, Gillian Welch and Acony Records, the Nashville-based label that she calls home, have been working to rectify the fact that all of the albums she has released under her own name have only come out on CD. Last year, saw the vinyl reissue of her 2011 disc The Harrow & The Harvest, and this month, she pressed her absolutely lovely 2003 LP Soul Journey to wax. In both cases, her delicate and heartfelt takes on folk and country, recorded to tape, benefit immensely from this all-analog production. Soul Journey may win out if only due to the strength of her and longtime musical partner David Rawlings’ songwriting here. “Wrecking Ball,” with its grinding guitar chords and Dylanesque drive, and the Carter Family-inspired “No One Knows My Name,” aided by some fine fiddle work by Ketch Secor, cut to the core and they cut deep. This is an album that will leave a permanent mark on your soul.
Rob Castro and Progeny have spent much of their careers working in support of others, crafting beats and atmospheres for underground hip-hop artists like Grayskul and Ghost Palace. Along the way, their paths and talents have crossed, with the two men helping one another out on various projects. It was only until recently that the duo started working on something wholly their own, and the result of this long distance collaboration (Castro lives in Seattle while Progeny hails from San Antonio) is this fantastic beat album released under the name hERON. The qualities that have made their individual productions dazzle—the use of live instrumentation, a clear love for ‘60s pop music (“Melt Away” is a delirious riff on The Beatles’ “And I Love Her”) and a minimalist vibe—become an explosion of flavors and textures when they combine their energies. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun, as proven by the giggly spirit of “Holding Each Other” and the Gainsbourg-meets-nursery rhyme bounce of “Chillmode.” As with the best beat tapes and instrumental hip-hop releases, the lack of vocals throughout isn’t a loss for hERON. You’ll be too busy bobbing your head to notice their absence.
Key to the success of most Michael Mann projects is the keen use of music, be it the pop hits of the time in the TV version of Miami Vice or the sinuous score that Pieter Brooke and Lisa Gerrard conceived for The Insider. That goes treble for the soundtrack for his 1986 cult classic Manhunter. A combination of synth-heavy atmospheric tunes and the well-chosen addition of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” as the backdrop for a climactic scene, the tone is set for a seamy thriller that introduced the pop culture world to Hannibal Lector and added a wonderfully stylized feel to the often overwrought serial killer film genre. This new vinyl edition from reissue masters Waxwork expands upon the original soundtrack release, which ended with an eight minute edit of the Iron Butterfly classic, by adding a pair of crucial tracks from ambient pioneers Klaus Schulze and Kitaro. And they do the music justice by spreading it out on two LPs, cut to be played at 45 RPM. In other words, everything sounds crystal clear with some vibrant low end that helps add some oomph to some of the otherwise chintzy tracks in the mix. As well, credit is due to the vinyl plant for managing to keep the surface noise to a minimum on a colored vinyl pressing. There are hints in the quieter sections but if the volume is keep to a manageable level, it’s easy to ignore.
Craft Recordings deserves a lot of credit for find a novel way to reckon with getting control of much of the catalog of Fantasy and Vanguard Records, two labels that have been kicking around the pop music scene for decades. Rather than try and reissue every last statement on those imprints, Craft has created releases like this five-LP set compiling some of the best dance music released during the disco era. And, as the size of this collection should tell you, they had a lot to choose from. This set draws in some of the biggest names of the disco canon—Sylvester (three of his tracks are spread around the five discs), The Players Association, Fever and Ike Turner—while giving some shine to lesser known acts. You won’t find any tracks that tend to pop up on throwback comps or radio playlists, but all of the tunes here scored high on the Dance/Disco charts at the time of their release.
Moreover, For Discos Only is just a lot of fun to listen to. Your feelings about disco may vary but without throbbing gems like The Ring’s “Savage Lover” and Spider Webb’s 1976 slinky “I Don’t Know What’s On Your Mind,” we wouldn’t have the delights of The Human League or Fitz And The Tantrums. What expense Craft paid in the packaging of this set (an ingenious accordion like design) and paying author Bill Brewster to dig deep into the history of each artist and the labels only partially made its way into the mastering of these records. The sound quality varies throughout with a couple of tracks saddled with overly sibilant high end, and others feeling like they were captured by needle drops instead of working from the master tapes. The majority of it sounds spectacular with the kind of rich bass notes that get a dance floor moving coming out loud and clear, but that only makes the muddier songs feel more out of place.
A lot changed for post-punk legends The Fall in the early ‘80s. Just as they were wrapping up the sessions for their sixth album Perverted By Language, leader Mark E. Smith brought his new wife Brix in to the band as a guitarist and vocalist. As well, the band made the leap from one vaunted indie label (Rough Trade) to another (Beggars Banquet). It was the perfect set of decisions to allow the Manchester-based group to start flexing a more pop-centric sound that found them landing singles on the U.K. Singles Chart for the first time, getting all the way up to #30 with their re-recording of R. Dean Taylor’s “There’s a Ghost In My House.”
This collection, originally released in 1990 and recently given its first vinyl pressing, is arguably the finest of the many compilations that have attempted to reckon with The Fall’s voluminous discography. The 17 tracks piled on to this single LP are some of the catchiest moments of their career, like the frug-ready “Hey! Luciani,” their fuzzy take on The Kinks’ “Victoria” and the surprisingly sunny “C.R.E.E.P.” As well, it helps focus in everything that made The Fall so great: a love of repetition, Mark E. Smith’s knotted up lyrics and spitting vocal delivery and some of the best bass work the band ever had, courtesy of the great Steve Hanley.
Despite coming up in a Georgia scene that also spawned R.E.M. and the Black Crowes, and spending time on the road touring with Neil Young and Soul Asylum following the release of their successful 1991 album Fly Me Courageous, Drivin N Cryin are generally overlooked in the discussions of Southern rock. As this new vinyl reissue makes clear, they certainly deserve to be part of the conversation. The LP is a sparklingly remastered and renamed version of the group’s 1997 self-titled album, originally released on the little-known Ichiban International label. And what it reveals is a band that is comfortable working in the vein of cowpunk (“Paid In Full,” a stomping cover of John Denver’s “Leaving On A Jet Plane”), jangling power-pop and dreamy psychedelia as they are in muscular barroom rock. Beneath it all, front man Kevn Kinney’s bruised lyrical sensibilities prove to be the true heart of the group, capturing the desperation, thrills and weathered spirit of a born romantic. Drivin N Cryin proved much more resilient than many of their peers as well, as the band is still going strong today and still releasing quality music. It’s well past time catch up with these rock lifers.
Israel producer and DJ Kutiman has been a going concern in the international electronic scene for the past decade or so, releasing music that rides a wonderful course through downtempo funk and more minimalist, kosmische-inspired fare. His work is far more interesting when he’s working in the latter vein, which makes his latest EP (released on his own Siyal Music imprint), one of his best to date. Over four expansive tunes, Kutiman finds a single element, like the East African-inspired flutter of the keyboard melody on “Mineral” or a hypnotically spinning bit of sub-bass on “Lucid Dream,” and drives them into infinity. These tracks give off an insinuating vibe, perfect for the soundtrack to a dystopian video game or a dark sci-fi film that features a lot of floating around in zero gravity. Or if you’re trying to keep the mood going in a DJ set filled with cuts from Eno’s ambient recordings and some of Tangerine Dream’s more far out fare, this will slide in the mix like a key into a lock.