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, that includes a new album from some post-punk legends, a new pressing of a holiday favorite and two fresh jazz releases.
Various Artists: Stranger Things: Soundtrack from the Netflix Series, Season 4 (Legacy)
Could anyone have predicted the effect that beloved horror / sci-fi series Stranger Things has had on the world’s listening habits? Would anyone have ever suspected a show like that could have raised the profile of Kate Bush to even greater heights or inspire a new generation to spin Metallica’s Master of Puppets? Is there any doubt that the soundtrack to the most recent season of this Netflix phenomenon would be one of the most highly-anticipated vinyl releases of the fall? Well, the Season 4 soundtrack is here and it’s a beast — a weighty double album with variant covers and a wealth of vintage pop and rock tunes including resurrected hit “Running Up That Hill” and a fresh remix of Journey’s “Separate Ways.” Much like the other pop culture fave with a throwback soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy, this is a compulsively re-listenable collection with display-worthy artwork. Be sure to store the LPs outside of the actual sleeve so you don’t put any unnecessary wear and tear on the gorgeous evocation of the show’s creepy, nostalgic thrills.
St. Lucia: Utopia (Nettwerk)
How does one reckon with the collision of emotions so many of us felt during the pandemic? For Brooklyn synthpop duo, the goal with their new album Utopia was to point the first steps out of lockdown to the nearest club for some cathartic dancing. At least that’s the tone of the group’s fourth full-length, and first for renowned indie label Nettwerk. Shades of regret and tentativeness mark the edges of the songs pressed on to lovely baby blue vinyl, but, leader Jean-Philip Grobler and partner Patricia Beranek-Grobler invite listeners to let those mixed up feelings drip out of your pores while you move your body to each each throbbing bassline and throwback beat. Pay attention to the words coming out of their mouths too as there’s wisdom to be found in thoughtful tracks like “Shame,” “Another Lifetime,” and “The Golden Age.”
Abraxas: Monte Carlo (Suicide Squeeze)
While St. Lucia was writing and recording as they sheltered in place in New York, the duo known as Abraxas survived the lockdowns via cross-continent collaboration. Danny Lee Blackwell of Night Beats and former Los Bitchos member Carolina Faruolo had a mutual appreciation for each other’s work and opted to join forces during the pandemic, trading files and ideas over the web. They wound up with a dozen songs that are the perfect meshing of their individual styles and shared interests. The emphasis is on easygoing Latin and garage pop rhythms augmented by guitar work that pulls from both acid rock and spaghetti Western soundtracks. Nothing about this record feels forced or overdone. Instead a mood of stoned nonchalance carries everything along with ease.
Simple Minds: Direction of the Heart (BMG)
Scottish post-punk icons Simple Minds — led primarily by founding members Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill — have evolved with the times better than most of their peers. The group doesn’t kowtow to the trends clogging up the pop charts, opting to instead gracefully age their melodic approach to rock through a tasteful use of electronics and an eye on the bigger global picture. All of that is in play on Direction of the Heart, their 19th studio effort. “Human Traffic” (which features a wonderful guest appearance by Sparks singer Russell Mael) explores the pace of modern living via a steady midtempo chug, and “Planet Zero” serves as a call-to-arms about our climate crisis with a disco-like flair. The whole effort is punctuated by a take on The Call’s “The Walls Came Down” that plays like a glorious ode to that band’s leader (and Kerr’s friend) Michael Been and a furious explosion of emotions about the state of the world.
The New Amsterdams: Killed or Cured (Lost In Ohio)
When it was released in 2007, Killed or Cured played out like a slow-motion car crash. According to bandleader Matt Pryor, it was written amid the growing tensions and dissolution of his other group, the emo/power-punk group the Get Up Kids, and the lyrics in each song reckon with his conflicting emotions about what, at the time, felt like an inevitability. Re-released some 15 years later — and for the first time on vinyl — the album has lost none of its raw anguish and fragile beauty. But because of its double LP form, there’s a chance to take some necessary breathers to shake off the downcast mood for a few moments. This reissue is also a great way to appreciate how Pryor took the original recordings (the Killed side, which was released online in 2006) and augmented them tastefully with brass, strings, and some electric guitar touches that feel natural instead of forced.
Rick Rosato: Homage (self-released)
Solo jazz recordings — maybe especially solo bass recordings — evoke the sensation of a naked tightrope walk. There’s nothing for the artist to hide and one false move and the whole endeavor will tumble in a fleshy heap. Bassist Rick Rosato dances across that taut line gracefully, humbly and the right touches of flair. For his solo debut, the Brooklyn musician chose mostly to tackle some of his favorite blues tunes. That includes a Monk classic (“Crepuscule With Nellie”), a tune by drummer Elvin Jones (“Elvin’s Guitar Blues”) and three Skip James compositions. Rosato drills down into the song’s cores, mining the purest elements of each and alchemizing them into spiny, colorful chunks of melody and rubbery sproing — sounds given even greater depth of feeling thanks to this 45 RPM pressing. The love he has for these songs and the care with which he approaches them shines through every last second of Homage.
A Place To Bury Strangers: Exploding Head (Mute / BMG)
Originally released 13 years ago, the second album by A Place To Bury Strangers almost buckled under the weight of the expectations thrown upon it. Front man Oliver Ackermann was rightly lauded for helping fuck up the sound of the modern indie scene via the guitar pedals he created with his company Death By Audio. And his group was the talk of the blogosphere on the strength of its fuzzy, agitated debut. The follow-up Exploding Head lived up to the hype by adding even thicker layers of guitar noise and the attack of a rhythm section that made MBV sound like the Crickets. This digitally remastered reissue deepens the story of the record by not messing with the formula much at all. The original album is just as nasty and noisy as always with just a touch more clarity around the edges. The group throws into the mix a second disc of b-sides and demos and some fantastic covers like the trio’s decimation of “Suffragette City.”
John Denver: Rocky Mountain High (RCA / Windstar)
For a full decade and change, John Denver was one of the biggest stars on the planet, pissing off the country music establishment and securing a place in the soft rock pantheon with his cable knit vocals and the comforting glow of his arrangements. Adding fuel to this cozy campfire early on was his sixth studio album, released 50 years ago and reissued this month on blue vinyl, and its indelible title track “Rocky Mountain High,” both of which hit the top 10 in the U.S. If all you know of this record is that tune, there is much more within to sink one’s teeth into. At the end of side one, Denver tells a powerful tale from the perspectives of an incarcerated man and his wife waiting for his release. He gets conceptual, taking up the bulk of side two with a long suite of songs written about the four seasons. And he sneaks in a lovely cover of the Beatles’ “Mother Nature’s Son,” to boot. Denver’s LPs are ubiquitous in used record shops for a reason. He struck a chord in the global populace that is resonating as loudly as ever.
Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy / Craft Recordings)
Every year since 2014, a new vinyl pressing of the soundtrack for the inimitable holiday special A Charlie Brown Christmas is released into the world. This is not an unwelcome turn of events as the music, performed by pianist Vince Guaraldi and his trio, hasn’t lost a glint of its tinsel-y shine in over 50 years. But it really hasn’t been until this year that these new issues have felt vital for a collector. The 2022 edition of the soundtrack includes a second LP made up of outtakes from the original recording sessions, offering fans a chance to hear how Guaraldi developed his solos and his approach to standards like “Greensleeves” and “O Tannenbaum.” And there’s something wonderfully humanizing about hearing the metronome and false start in the first take of “Linus & Lucy,” the bouncy bop that should have been included on the Voyager golden disc.
Surprise Chef: Education & Recreation (Big Crown)
Listening to the new album by Australian quintet Surprise Chef, or the two full-lengths the group has previously released, it’s clear how much these young men have studied the work of instrumental combos of the past. Within their work can be heard and felt the spirits of Booker T & the M.G.’s, the Bar-Kays, Tortoise and even the Ventures. All great building blocks for a fine ensemble, but, as ever, Surprise Chef don’t ape those acts. They are on their own trip, which takes listeners along into a territory where ’70s soul and ’90s post-rock connect to create a shiny surface that these fantastic players glide over like figure skaters and, during their heated moments, skip across like a stone.
Charlotte Wessels: Tales From Six Feet Under Vol. II (Napalm)
An artist pivoting between genres isn’t as unusual as it once was, which lessens the shock of the two albums that vocalist Charlotte Wessels has recorded since walking away from symphonic metal group Delain. Though heavy rock isn’t very far from this multi-talented artist’s mind as she settles into a solo career, she has proven to have many more gears to slip into. On the second volume of her Tales, that includes some grinding industrial beats, silken synthpop, prog metal and gorgeous folk balladry. The key point to take away from this and Volume One is that nearly everything heard on these albums was performed and programmed by Wessels. Again, being that multi-faceted and self-reliant is something that many modern artists are capable of, but there’s not a small amount of defiance to what Wessels did here. She released all these songs on a monthly basis through her Patreon and only called in help sparingly. That she’s releasing this collection in physical form through an established label feels like an afterthought. From the sounds of this strong, diverse album, they need her far more than she needs them.
Black Lips: Apocalypse Love (Fire)
The world is a far more interesting place with bands like Black Lips in it. There’s no telling what this Georgia-born ensemble is going to get up to whenever they gather on stage or in a studio. (One of my favorite moments was a Capitol Hill Block Party gig where singer / guitarist Cole Alexander headbutted the mic in the first minute and spent the rest of the set with blood slowly drooling down his face.) Album #10 finds the Lips further enveloping no wave elements courtesy of singer / saxophonist Zumi Rosow and enjoying a spin through ragged country-psych, Morricone-spattered desert pop, Krautrock and loose garage spew. And that’s just the first side of the LP. The flip goes even farther out as on the nasty ESG-inspired house breakdown “Sharing My Cream” that needs to be experienced to be believed. May their long strange trip never end.
Michael Blake: Combobulate (Newvelle)
As we reported last month, jazz label Newvelle Records has finally resumed operations after a pandemic hiatus and their first four releases out of the gate should be celebrated and analyzed equally. For the second installment of the imprint’s Renewal Collection, majordomo Elan Mehler called on saxophonist Michael Blake to write and record material using the musician’s somewhat unusual brass band: two tuba players, trombone, trumpet and drums. The lineup gives Blake ample low end to cushion these performances within — a move that softly restrains his own playing and that of trumpeter Stephen Bernstein to trickling eddies rather than torrents of sound. And it allows the group to tackle some New Orleans-influenced sounds on “Malagasy” and “Henry’s Boogaloo” in a manner that feels authentic and exploratory, age old and entirely modern.
OFF!: Free LSD (Fat Possum)
Punk supergroup OFF! Is back with a new album and a new lineup. Vocalist Keith Morris and guitarist Dimitri Coats are still around, but towing along a fresh rhythm section made up of Thundercat sideman Justin Brown on drums and Trail of Dead bassist Autry Fulbright II. With those new players, the quartet has become more dynamic, with Brown especially pushing the rest of his bandmates even harder with the thrash metal-like assault on his kit that evokes the spirit of the late, great D.H. Peligro. Coats, too, has added a lot more electronics to his rig that, as the album title nods too, gives a coat of dark psychedelia to these songs. Vinyl collectors will want to track down the deluxe edition that includes blue translucent wax, a glow-in-the-dark gatefold sleeve and the lyrics appropriately printed on blotter paper.
Talkdemonic: Various Seasides (Lucky Madison)
After losing his bandmate Lisa Molinaro to stints in the Decemberists and Modest Mouse and moving to New York, multi-instrumentalist Kevin O’Connor has reconfigured Talkdemonic as an entirely solo project with this new album arriving after an 11 year hiatus. All of those factors have had a noticeable effect on the sound of Various Seasides, as does the work he has done in the intervening years composing for film (including assisting the late Johann Johansson on the score for Darren Aronofsky’s mother!). The songs on this album are often short and pointed, quickly setting a mind’s eye scene and wasting little time for exposition. Exactly where the shimmering bath of synths on the title track or the cutting acoustic guitar and vibes of opener “Barely Dawn” or the haunted “Film Wave” take you really depends on your imagination or what sort of mental state you’re in when dropping the needle on this lovely purple LP. You may soar. You may sink. You may float right away.