Record Time: New & Notable Vinyl Releases (March 2021)

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IKOQWE: The Beginning, The Medium, The End and The Infinite (Crammed Discs)

They claim to be from another planet and dress like ninjas that have constructed their costume out of the scraps from a garment factory. In reality, the two men that make up IKOQWE are two future-minded artists—rapper Luaty Beirão and producer Pedro Coquenão—that split their time between Portugal and Angola, carrying with them the vibrant sounds and creative energy endemic to both countries. The music on this devilishly inspired debut leans more to the latter nation as they were allowed to dig through the archives of the International Library of African Music to find samples of traditional songs and instruments to build their material around. The resulting music is as loose and floppy as an inflatable tube man set loose on a soundtrack of electro, dub and reggaeton. Underneath the rubbery joy of the music are lyrics of joyful liberation balanced with healthy amounts of frustration and confusion at the current geopolitical landscape. By looking through extraterrestrial eyes, IKOQWE is able to see the mess for what it is and offers a musical path through the wreckage.


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UB40: Signing Off (EMI/UMe)

British reggae ensemble UB40 will forever be known here in the U.S. for their #1 hits—all of them covers of other artists’ material, like “Red Red Wine” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” But in their home country, they struck a deep chord among fellow Britons that were frustrated and frightened by the policies of the Thatcher government that hit immigrants and the lower classes the hardest. The group’s early work, like their 1980 debut album Signing Off, which was given a 40th anniversary reissue this month, had the languor of reggae but they were writing furious anthems that raged against the treatment of Blacks on both sides of the Atlantic (“Tyler,” “Burden of Shame”) and impoverished people worldwide (“Food For Thought,” “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”). It’s hard to fault the group for chasing commercial success as they did in the ‘90s and beyond, but considering the dangerous rhetoric being spewed by members of the British Parliament and the residents of 10 Downing Street, it would be great to hear UB40 return with a fresh fire in their collective belly.


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Sunburned Hand of the Man: Pick A Day To Die (Three Lobed)

One of the finest independent labels in all the land, Three Lobed Records, is celebrating 20 years of providing the world with various strains of psychedelic music with a perfectly ambitious series of releases that includes material from Sonic Youth, guitarist Daniel Bachman, Six Organs of Admittance and this wooly wonder from the amorphous New England ensemble Sunburned Hand of the Man. Constructed from sessions recorded over the course of a decade, the album is as dark and slippery as a handful of mercury—the music briefly taking the shape of hollowed out rock or concussed disco or scratchy kosmische pop before tumbling into a formless puddle again. When you have absorbed and played as many different modes of music as the various members of Sunburned have in their lives, what sense would it make to stick to one genre? And why wouldn’t they fuck around with the DNA of each style they try on? And why wouldn’t you join in the fun? All you have to do is drop the needle and let go.


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Oh-OK: The Complete Reissue (HHBTM)

Athens, GA ensemble Oh-OK is often only remembered in relation to other bands from their hometown or what its members did after they split in 1984. During their brief existence, the dance-pop ensemble had an early breakout gig opening for R.E.M. and were soon on tour with Pylon. And years later, vocalist Linda Hopper formed the glammy Magnapop and late period guitarist Matthew Sweet went on to have a great solo career. All important details, but only as context. Oh-OK’s freeform post-punk that forecast the jangly agitation of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s twee scenes championed by labels like Sarah, K and the label overseeing this lovely reissue, Happy Happy Birthday To Me. This collection brings together the group’s two official EPs, a pair of previously unreleased tracks and a batch of live material from a tour stop in New York—together with a wonderful insert reprinting press about the group. It all adds up to the perfect reissue template that other labels should be following.


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William The Conqueror: Maverick Thinker (Chrysalis)

Scottish trio William The Conqueror truck in the kind of clean, crisp rock that UK acts have done better than the rest of the world for at least the past five decades. Their influences are right there on the surface (bluesy Southern jam rock, ’90s Britpop, ’70s psych-folk) but they give them that essential little twist and personal spin that make them feel fresh and engaging. WTC has the luxury of being led by Ruarri Joseph, an artist who had previously made his name as a solo act, but has, since 2017, thrown his lot in with this fantastic project. Their third album Maverick Thinker finds the group in full flower—their creative chemistry solidified and blooming all over the place with songs that seep deep into the system via sharp pop hooks and Joseph’s slyly powerful vocals. The album sounds especially great on this vinyl pressing. The mastering is well-balanced and dynamic and there’s no intrusive noise or torturous flaws to distract the ear.


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Linda Smith: Till Another Time: 1988-1996 (Captured Tracks)

In the mode of last year’s fantastic compilation Strum & Thrum, Captured Tracks has unearthed another hidden treasure of America’s pop underground. Linda Smith has spent her entire career as a solo artist releasing self-recorded lo-fi material that sits comfortably alongside the tumbling post-punk of The Raincoats, the tape hiss-laden bursts of early Mountain Goats and the primitive grind of Mecca Normal. But there’s a sensibility to her work that sits even further outside the frame as Smith has remained indifferent to seeking any kind of acclaim or attention beyond her friends and a small cadre of fans. It might be too late for that with the release of this compilation that cherry-picks from her early work and offers the best overview of her perfectly imperfect approach to pop songwriting and recording. The more people that learn to love Smith, the harder it’s going to be for her to remain in the shadows.


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The Night Game: Dog Years (Real Johnson)

As artists and their teams continue to reckon with the torrent of music available at everyone’s fingertips and wonder in what small or large way they can cut through the chatter, it’s likely that we’re going to get more releases like this new album from The Night Game, the electropop side project of Boys Like Girls frontman Martin Johnson. Dog Years first hit the streets on vinyl, a full month before it sees release on streaming services. Granted, most of Johnson’s fans likely have turntables and his many BLG releases on wax. But this is a novel plan that may allow these shimmery sweet tunes to more fully take hold rather than letting them get shoved aside for the next song in a playlist or their chosen DSP perpetually set on shuffle mode. This material deserves the attention too. Recorded over a span of 10 months, Dog Years lets Johnson imagine he’s making the soundtrack to a lost John Hughes teen classic complete with squealing sax solos, Breakfast Club dance party beats and the tense muscle of his voice bursting clouds throughout.


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Jane Weaver: Flock (Fire)

In a recent interview, Jane Weaver said that her intent with Flock was “to make a pop record”—to put the conceptual scope of her previous albums aside and simply rely on her expertise as a writer of infectious melodies and tunes that add a hauntological spin on glam, disco, electro, psychedelia and shoegaze. Those tools were already on hand in collections like 2017’s Modern Kosmology and 2014’s The Silver Globe but by not needing to worry about how to tie them all together, Weaver lets herself flex and shift gears and bask in single ideas like wondering what it would sound like if Broadcast covered the Meters (“Pyramid Scheme”) or if James Murphy produced a Kylie Minogue single (“Solarised”) or if they played that disco 45 at 16 RPM (“The Revolution of Super Visions”). Excited as I am about this album, which is already one of my favorites of the year, I’m equally curious to hear it on black vinyl. The cream colored pressing I was sent to review was super noisy and crackly, pulling me right out of key moments on this otherwise fantastic LP.