Record Time is Paste’s monthly column that takes a glimpse into the wide array of new vinyl releases currently flooding record stores around the world, and all the gear that is part of the ongoing surge in vinyl culture. 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’s edition includes a massive collection of singles from a British legend, some sweet jazz reissues and the filthiest punk you’re likely to hear.
Paul McCartney: The 7” Singles Box (MPL / Capitol / UMe)
The end of 2022 gifted fans of Paul McCartney with two chances to go deep into his creative world following the breakup of The Beatles. There was the first volume of Allan Kozinn and Adrian Sinclair’s book series The McCartney Life, a 720 page doorstop that covers his life through 1973. And, perhaps more enticingly, Macca himself released The 7” Singles Box, a weighty collection that tucks 80 singles into a wooden box meant to look like a shipping crate — complete with a pair of nylon lashing straps.
Which version of this deep dive depends on your patience and budget. Only 3,000 copies of the boxed set were produced, and they sold out well before the December 2nd release date. Resellers on eBay and Discogs are now asking upwards of $2,500 for the collection. I can’t make a claim as to whether the expense is truly worth it. But listening through the copy that was dropped on the Record Time desk has been far more instructive about the peaks and valleys of McCartney’s solo career than I think Kozinn and Sinclair’s work.
The 80-disc set runs the gamut, from his first post-Beatles single (1970’s “Another Day”) to his most recent (“Women and Wives,” picked as Song of the Year for Record Store Day 2022). In between, his many high points, his few flops and plenty of curveballs. Did you know Macca recorded a song in 2014 for the video game Destiny? I sure didn’t. Nor did I know about the tune he wrote for a 1984 animated film featuring Rupert The Bear, “We All Stand Together,” which landed at #3 on the British pop charts.
That song was so successful in the U.K. for the exact same reason that listening to 80 7” singles is more of a delight than a chore. McCartney’s facility for pop hooks is superhuman. It’s a skill set that elevates pure fluff like the cringey “Fuh You” or the unfairly derided “Wonderful Christmastime” or even the theme song to the god awful 1985 Cold War comedy Spies Like Us. So when that talent gets applied to his best work, the results can be transcendent. “With A Little Luck,” his 1978 US #1 with Wings, can still thaw the iciest of hearts, and seeming throwaways like “Coming Up” and “Uncle Albert” have not lost their power to charm and delight. As for his most recent material, McCartney is still audibly aiming for the top of the charts even as the musical trends of the world have moved well beyond his brand of warm cocoa pop.
This whole collection is proof positive of McCartney’s power as an artist. He has avoided awkward attempts to keep up with the sounds of the times, including his collabs with Kanye (none of which are included here) and his odd ambient work with producer Youth under the name The Fireman. He knows where his strengths are and continues to tone those muscles. Maybe we don’t need an 18-pound set of vinyl singles to bear that out, but there’s little chance of being able to ignore the breadth of Macca’s work with this beast threatening to crack whatever shelf it’s placed upon.
Olli Hirvonen: Kielo (Ropeadope)
Guitarist Olli Hirvonen is primarily known as a jazz player, working with the large ensemble Big Heart Machine and vocalist Andréa Wood as well as producing his own albums as bandleader. For his latest album Kielo, the Finnish musician is revealing more nuances and skillsets. The eight songs featured here are informed by jazz to be sure (dial into his Sharrock-like solo on “Lento” for further evidence) but the misty spirit of the record is closer in hue to the work of post-rock groups like Mogwai, Unwed Sailor and the Six Parts Seven. But Hirvonen removes the bombast and radical volume shifts that groups like those truck in. What is left behind is a sustained atmosphere that evokes images of overcast skies and stretches of flat, frozen ground. It’s absolute wintertime music, tucking listeners into the downy interplay between the guitarist and his regular rhythm section (bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell) and bringing out the various shades of Hirvonen’s sober application of effects pedals and slide.
Alice Coltrane: Ptah, The El Daoud (Verve / Impulse / UMe)
Jazz fans didn’t need any reminders about the greatness of Alice Coltrane. That fact was firmly established decades ago when she established herself as a musical force to be reckoned with during her time playing with Terry Gibbs and her husband John. But the steady stream of re-releases that have been arriving in record stores of late have been a wonderful expression of her greatness as a composer and performer. The latest to hit the market is a reissue of Ptah, The El Daoud, Alice’s 1970 album, and a gentle explosion of spiritual consciousness in musical form. Recorded at her home studio on Long Island with support from Pharoah Sanders, Ron Carter, Joe Henderson and Ben Riley, the four tracks are a long meditative hum with the two tenor sax players and Alice slowly tangling and untangling into melodic mandalas. Adding the dashes of color and glitter are the rhythm section of Riley and Carter, veteran players apply the perfect amount of pressure and release throughout.
Dwarves: Blood Guts & Pussy / Thank Heaven For Little Girls / Sugarfix (Greedy)
No matter how little you come within ear or eye shot of punk rockers Dwarves, it’s not something you easily forget. The Chicago-bred group play with an unrelenting speed and fury, dusting off an album’s worth of paeans to drugs, sex, sex on drugs and other nihilistic concerns in less time than it takes to watch a sitcom without commercials. And they adorn their records with provocative images and titles like the three naked, blood-covered bodies found on the cover of 1990’s Blood Guts & Pussy. To close out the year, Dwarves have begun a reissue campaign of their earlier work, starting with the three albums they recorded for Sub Pop in the early part of the ’90s. The band’s relationship with the label was a fraught one, particularly after they announced the stabbing death of their guitarist HeWhoCannotBeNamed. It turned out to be a hoax, and Sub Pop cut them loose as a result. Working with the Seattle label did give Dwarves a huge boost sonically as they were able to work with producer Jack Endino on Blood, record Little Girls at Butch Vig’s Smart Studios and run future Foo Fighters collaborator Bradley Cook through the wringer to make Sugarfix. All three records sound like sharp, swift kicks in the teeth from a pointed boot — all leathery fury and metallic spew — on these new vinyl editions. And with their short original run times, there’s plenty of space on each slab for bonus tracks that don’t feel or sound squeezed in.
The Sword: Apocryphon (Razor & Tie / Craft Recordings)
The idea was to have this 10th anniversary repress of The Sword’s fourth album Apocryphon available for RSD Black Friday, but shipping and production delays scuttled that plan. Instead, the Austin metal band pushed the release to this month for an indie-exclusive, limited run pressed on swirling yellow vinyl. I daresay that this really worked to The Sword’s benefit as this album deserves to be heard free of the deluge of RSD releases. Working with producer J. Robbins, the quartet continued to lean into the more groove-centric approach that they introduced on 2010’s Warp Riders while playing with an attractive looseness. And using primarily analog gear to record Apocryphon brought the overall sound closer to that of classic heavy rock albums by Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. The power and lean muscle of the album is even stronger than before on this new edition, pressed from lacquers cut by SST’s Daniel Kreiger. It’s almost assaultive, even at a moderate volume. Warn your neighbors before you drop the needle on this one.
Cat Stevens: Catch Bull At Four (A&M / UMe)
The picture of singer-songwriter Cat Stevens on the back of his 1972 album Catch Bull at Four is all smiles and louche charm — shirt unbuttoned, casual stance and cigarette in hand. The music on the record, though, was far from carefree. Stevens had been riding a tidal wave of success for his previous albums which twisted his head and soul. Even as he continued to seek spiritual enlightenment, he felt tethered to the material world and the commercial hunger of his record labels. That tension comes through even the loveliest songs on Catch, exemplified by the complex, prog-leaning arrangements for songs like “18th Avenue” and “Angelsea,” and lyrics that longed for calm and comfort. Re-released this month to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the album sounds even more knotted up and glorious due to the remastering work of Mazen Murad who puts an extra sonic emphasis on Gerry Conway’s drumming, the judicious use of synthesizer throughout these sessions and the other quirky details that added to the music’s wobbly brilliance.
Roy Brooks: Beat (Jazz Workshop / Verve / UMe)
Drummer Roy Brooks didn’t make many albums as a bandleader during his long life, preferring instead to remain the galvanizing force behind artists like Chet Baker, Shirley Scott and Yusef Lateef. But when he did step to the fore, Brooks was responsible for some formidable work. His first foray taking top billing, 1964’s Beat has been a long overlooked pearl of jazz’s bop years. Brooks worked with a trusted group of players, including pianist Hugh Lawson, trumpeter Blue Mitchell and saxophonist Junior Cook, to produce a temperamental collection of tunes with enough swing for the dancers, enough blues for the lonely set and enough complexity for students of the culture. Pay particular attention to “Passin’ The Buck,” the lone Brooks composition on this set. It plays out like a resting in a pool of water that is slowly increasing in temperature thanks to heated solos from the horn players and a bubbly melody that keeps joyously spilling over the edges.
The Senders: All Killer No Filler (1977 – 2001) (Left For Dead)
New York rockers The Senders are one of the great unheralded outfits to emerge from the punk scene, and it’s hard to tell whether their relative obscurity was a purposeful move or pure bad luck. While their compatriots the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers were snagging major label deals and international tours, the Senders stayed put and stayed under the radar. The folks in the know, however, grok what the rest of the known universe has been missing, which might be one reason why Left For Dead Records put together this double LP compilation that plucks from the group’s slim discography and slaps a truly juicy morsel on the fourth side. Leading up to that last disc flip are a spectacular assortment of rip-snorting originals, choice R&B and blues covers and the complete Seven Song Super Single recorded for Max’s Kansas City’s in-house label. Rounding out the set is a fierce live recording of the Senders at Max’s in 1978 augmented by former NY Doll Johnny Thunders. The late guitarist’s presence adds some extra juice to the proceedings as they turn lead Sender Phil Marcade’s originals and a cover of Them’s “I Can Only Give You Everything” over under sideways and down.