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 massive boxed set of David Bowie’s ‘80s output, some piano jazz classics, a collection of library music and a reissue of an Elephant 6 power pop gem.
The efforts by Parlophone Records to bring David Bowie’s entire discography (give or take a few notable omissions) has now arrived at one of the most maligned periods of the late artist’s career. It was a stretch of time when the Thin White Duke made unapologetic stabs at true worldwide pop stardom, reaching those heights and then falling back down to earth again, creatively speaking.
This weighty eight-LP set makes no such judgement calls. It simply pulls together remastered versions of his three studio albums from the era (1983’s Let’s Dance, 1984’s Tonight and 1987’s Never Let Me Down), two live albums, a collection of dance remixes, an odds and ends set and, intriguingly, a new version of the material Never, conceived by Bowie before his death in 2016 and completed by Mario McNulty.
The studio material benefits the most here, with even the lightweight tunes from the trio sounding explosive on wax. Even the curiosity that is the 2018 remake of Never Let Me Down sounds spectacular on the turntable. Unfortunately the result is a clearer glimpse into the more misguided decisions by McNulty and his host of collaborators, like the syrupy string arrangements by Nico Muhly and Reeves Gabrels’ diaphanous guitar work. The Re:call 4 set is a great benefit to fans too as it compiles his soundtrack work for cult favorite films Labyrinth and Absolute Beginners with copious singles edits and his quaintly misguided take on “Dancin’ In The Streets,” recorded with Mick Jagger. It’s only the live recordings, both seemingly sourced from rough recordings meant for home video release, that sound entirely thin and tinny. ‘Tis a pity, too, as the performances, particularly from the Serious Moonlight tour, are full of spirit and sharp edges.
As vinyl becomes more and more a signifier of cool rather than a vehicle for music in the eyes of some labels and consumers, we’re going to see a small tidal wave of releases like this 5th anniversary re-release of The Weeknd’s debut album. It’s the LP equivalent of those deluxe editions that drop into the world eight to 16 months after an album’s initial release. This one feels potentially more egregious as Republic Records issued Kiss Land on vinyl when it was first released in 2013. The draw for this one is colored wax and new slipcover packaging that is well-designed but counterintuitive, with the promise of many records accidentally falling to the floor. The music, at least, sounds as good as a mostly digital production can when transferred to an analog medium. The Cinemascope sweep of Abel Tesfaye’s production gets tamped down a bit but there’s still enough oomph cut into each side of this double LP to allow for multiple late night buzzed spins.
The career of Terry Callier was a long-simmering affair that took the better part of three decades to finally boil over into some kind of solid success. His first album, reissued this month by Craft Recordings, was recorded for Prestige Records in 1964, but didn’t come out until four years later after the producer absconded with the tapes. By the time it was finally released, as writer Jason P. Woodbury says in his liner notes, “the quiet, moody folk of the LP was out of step with the heady times…and it failed to register a commercial impact.” A few years later, Callier had left his acoustic roots behind for soul-jazz, issuing a trio of records in the early ‘70s, including the masterpiece What Color Is Love, which is being brought back into circulation thanks to Geffen. His steady, vibrato-laden voice didn’t change from one record to the other, only his decision to move from spiritually-minded concerns to those of the body.
Callier was brought from the brink of obscurity thanks to record collectors and artists like Beth Orton and Massive Attack who cited him as an inspiration and helped him find a modern audience. And they have helped keep his older material in the minds of music obsessives, playing no small part in the reissues of these two albums. You really can’t go wrong with either one. Keep both in circulation on a lazy Sunday and they’ll each set the mood: New Folk Sound for the morning and twilight hours, Love giving the afternoon and early evening a nice sense of purpose and groove.
Portland-based popsters The Minders began their existence two decades ago in Denver, aided in the studio by Apples In Stereo leader Robert Schneider and skirting the outer rings of The Elephant 6 Collective that begat Neutral Milk Hotel. While lead Minder Martyn Leaper shared a lot of the same ‘60s loving DNA with those groups, he had a firmer grasp on the particulars that most with the help of his perfectly tart vocals and knack for an instant earworm hook. With the rights to the first Minders album back in his control, Leaper is re-releasing Hooray For Tuesday for the first time on vinyl with the addition two unheard versions of the title track: a re-recording by the current iteration of the band and a demo from 1996. The woozy, candyfloss spirit of this music still sounds like lost broadcasts from the bubblegum pop era, a sensation amplified through it being pressed to wax. The bonus cuts suffer a bit as the second side of my copy was cut a little off-center so they sound too warped to really enjoy. Until that point, the music offers nothing but pure delight.
The name of this soul-jazz ensemble is an acronym for Roy Ayers Music Productions, as it was the creation of vibraphonist Roy Ayers and he handled much of the songwriting on the group’s sole full-length Come Into Knowledge. If you know anything about Ayers’ work at the time this album’s release in 1977, you likely have a good idea of what the music sounds like: smoothed out love songs with a light dusting of funk and a lot of cyclical lyrics. If not, you’ve surely heard some of these tunes sampled by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and Erykah Badu.
Returning this album to circulation will likely bring about some sighs of relief from record collectors as original copies of this album command $60 or more in the resale market. And Verve’s new pressing of it does these rare grooves justice. The music sounds as crystalline and gleaming as ever, to the benefit of the lovely vocals of Sharon Matthews and Sibel Thrasher, the co-lead singers for this Cincinnati-based outfit. The material itself isn’t the most dynamic of the era, as it tends to land in repetitive grooves with lyrics that don’t move much beyond one idea or phrase. All the performers on here sound great, but went on to far more exciting projects since.
The name and face on the cover of this 1971 album may be that of multi-instrumentalist Pharoah Sanders but Thembi was very much the product of all the players. The second side of the LP opens with a hypnotic and emotionally charged bass solo from Cecil McBee, and the first track “Astral Traveling” was built from an electric piano improvisation that keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith was playing around with in the studio. The heart of the album, though, still belongs to Sanders. The title track was named for his young son, after all. And the music on it a reflection of his interest in Eastern instrumentation and his spiritual leanings. Back in print on vinyl for the first time in 30 years, Thembi is as entrancing as ever; a whirl of thoughtful playing and devilish percussion that presages the funk excursions of the ‘70s jazz universe and a cross-cultural hybrid approach that feels invigorating and alive.
Various Artists – Unusual Sounds (Anthology)
Library music, if you are unfamiliar with the term, refers to often instrumental compositions that were written and recorded on the cheap and tucked away on tapes and compilations for use by filmmakers and producers who didn’t have the means to hire a composer. Its heyday was in the ‘60s and ‘70s when labels like KPM and Bosworth and folks like Stefano Torossi and Delia Derbyshire were cranking out this material on the regular. This new double-LP release from the always-reliable Anthology Recordings draws together 20 tracks from various library music camps, offering up a delightful snapshot of work that aimed to reflect the tone of the times and wound up making some innovative and often funky tunes. This collection, curated by author David Hollander, is a perfect assemblage of styles and moods, with silken funk tunes like Torossi’s “Feeling Tense” sharing space with the drawn out, Terry Riley-like synth exploration “Group Meditation,” created by Marc Monsen and Belgian artist Joel Vandroogenbroeck.
In spite of the massive size and heft of this boxed set, 1982-2010 doesn’t come off the shelf with everything U.K. industrial band Nitzer Ebb recorded. As the hype sticker on this collection spells out, Pylon Records left out two of the band’s seven full-length albums because they are easily obtainable, but they did kindly leave some space in the box for you to place the vinyl pressings of their 1983 debut and the group’s most recent album Industrial Complex. There’s also plenty of remixes and live material originally released on the band’s singles that didn’t make the cut.
The intention of this 10 disc set was to bring back into circulation the five long out of print albums that Nitzer Ebb released on Mute Records between 1987 and 1994, a period that saw them evolve from a minimalist assault into more fleshed out even symphonic sound. Pylon sweetens the deal by stretching the records out to double-LPs, rounding them out with a selection of remixes from the era. And each one boasts some lovely glossy packaging that adds grace notes to the original artwork like embossed lettering and overlays that reveals added details. The pressings are equally well-considered. The balance of the treble-heavy throb of the synths and the snarling thud of the percussion is just about perfect, with only Big Hit sounding a little off at times due to the band’s decision to emphasize the sound of Jason Payne’s acoustic drums.
While the mid-to-late ‘80s saw post-punk legends The Fall start to creep into the pop charts in their native England as they struck on a more accessible version of their arch repetitive sound, Mark E. Smith and co. still left room in their lives for more artistic diversions. As when they were invited to create the soundtrack to a strange ballet produced by the avant garde dance troupe the Michael Clark Company that would feature the band playing live with the dancers. The story of the piece was loosely centered on the reign of William of Orange though you’d be hard-pressed to pick up on that through Smith’s postmodern lyricism and the fanciful, sometimes naughty costumes of the dance company.
To celebrate its 30th birthday, Beggars Arkive has reissued the weird and wired pseudo-soundtrack to those performances on orange vinyl (natch) with the bonus treat of a reproduction of the ballet program tucked in the sleeve. Though rooted in jangly new wave and shaggy garage rock, the music on Oranj still sounds entirely unmoored from genre. Not so much timeless as it is unable to fit in any era of music history without sounding alien and a little discomforting. The new pressing reckons well with the original release’s blend of live and studio recordings with the former revealing the limitations of ‘80s taping technology. The electric charge of tracks like “Yes, O Yes” and “Cab It Up!” more than compensates for those sonic losses.
The world should offer up thanks and praise to the universe that guitarist Bill Orcutt and drummer Chris Corsano found one another. The two avant-garde musicians abuse their chosen instruments with the same level of curious intensity and batshit craziness. You could call it jazz, but that’s about the closest signifier you’re likely to find to describe the racket these boys make together. The pair’s second full-length, recorded over two nights earlier this year at a theater in Brussels, is a divine mess of overdriven guitar bluster pushed into the red by Corsano’s rapid-fire percussive attack. Their sharp ears help give these tunes some kind of structure, with each listening intently for the other’s movements and spikes in volume and ferocity. Like a great modern dance troupe, they move as one even as they showcase their individual abilities.
Even by 1966, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck had yet to give up on the motif of “time” in his album concepts and titles, a theme inspired by the runaway success of his 1959 album Time Out. These wound up being the last of that series and it closes it out with decisiveness. Though only credited to its leader on the cover, this was recorded by his longtime quartet, which featured the indelible work of saxophonist Paul Desmond and the rhythm section par excellence that was bassist Gene Wright and drummer Joe Morello. Giving Brubeck sole billing feels reasonable as he composed all the material on this record and it proved to be a vital transition point for the pianist. In just a few years, the quartet would dissolve and he would be off into more spiritual territory and a deeper exploration of jazz standards. Here, Brubeck and his quartet kept the cool jazz flames burning a little longer with their marvelous interplay showcased on the shifting swing of “Cassandra,” the hopped up waltz “40 Days” and the lovely “Softly, William, Softly.” This is an oft-overlooked album from Brubeck’s voluminous discography that deserves the care given to it by ORG Music and the Pallas Group pressing plant.
The albums released on Arista’s Freedom imprint have been getting a little reissue attention of late, as with the release of two Ornette Coleman live albums that have come out recently. But this one comes as a bit of a surprise as pianist Roland Hanna isn’t a name that generally gets namechecked by folks who dabble in jazz appreciation and record collecting. The composer and teacher earned his stripes backing up names like Benny Goodman and Charlie Mingus before leading his own trio in the early ‘60s. He continued to work for the rest of his days (he passed away in 2002) but never became the boldface name that many of his peers did. Listening to this humble session offers some understanding. Hanna’s solo originals are understated, with small flashes of virtuosic showiness. He was more in love with indelible melodies that lightened the spirit, as shown by his choice of standards here: “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good.” When he sets off on those songs, it’s as pleasant a journey as you would care to have, with solos that paint around the edges of the original melodies with subtle gradations of color and perspective.
Moon Hooch – “Light It Up”/“Acid Mountain”/“Growing Up” (Hornblow Recordings)
The 7” single is one of the more underappreciated outlets for music in the world. It makes a bit of sense considering the work that goes into playing them on your turntable – wearing out a path between couch and stereo to turn the little bugger over after about five to seven minutes. The good news about this trio of 7”s from Brooklyn trio Moon Hooch is that they will likely keep you on your feet and dancing in the middle of your living room so you’ll already be aloft when it’s time to move from side a to b or to just pick up the needle and start the same track all over again. The saxophone and drums outfit are an especially funky crew, kicking up a righteous storm with minimal instrumentation. These singles—featuring the same song on both sides; one recorded in the studio, the other at one of their sweaty live shows—are proof positive of that. The heated grooves of “Light It Up” and the space disco antics found in “Growing Up” are driven by the interplay between the heavy bass tones of the baritone and bass saxes and the squalling tenor sax melodies. It’s the kind of deceptively simple playing and composition that takes years to master and even longer to make work with others. Moon Hooch has found the perfect formula, and as these singles make clear, they are utilizing it with authority.