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 reissue of a jazz classic, a dubbed out remix album, holiday fare and music from a quartet of grunge goddesses.
The trend of artists looking to correct the historical record continues with the release of a new mix of Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, the 1980 debut full-length by Bay Area punks Dead Kennedys. The decision to hand the master tapes over to Chris Lord-Alge for a remix was made at the behest of the band’s label — and made much to the chagrin of former vocalist Jello Biafra who was apparently locked out of the process and knocks this new version as “kinda boring.” Whatever your feelings about this, what Biafra does get right is that the mix has a sheen meant to cut through the flattening qualities of streaming services and mp3 downloads. The bottom end is ratcheted up and the guitar tone is leached of its piercing high end. The songs sound thick and syrupy with a noticeable loss in their insistent punch. There’s no firm answer on which mix is better as the record is going to sound different to every set of ears, but I do admit to admiring certain aspects of this new mix like the beefed up volume and rounder bass sound. I’ll keep it around even though, when I want to hear this undeniable classic, I’ll likely reach for my original LP first.
As with a good number of vinyl reissues from the last few years, there’s likely no need for a gold vinyl repressing of ABBA’s 1992 greatest hits collection. There are enough copies of the album floating around the record stores of the world as we speak. The existence of this new edition — which sounds pretty spectacular in spite of its colored wax — doesn’t nearly diminish the greatness of the music on each of the two LPs. Every track on here is a masterpiece of pop songcraft that has spent the past nearly five decades working its way into every aspect of our cultural lives. Much like the Beatles’ catalog, ABBA’s hits like “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” might as well be encoded in our DNA at this point. Don’t be surprised if your toddler’s first word turns out to be “Chiquitita.”
Jazz fans have remained remarkably patient as Blue Note cranked out crates and crates of vinyl reissues of other albums from their voluminous catalog, waiting for the label to finally get around to repressing Blue Train, John Coltrane’s lone release for the imprint. At long last, it has arrived as part of Blue Note’s Tone Poet series with Joe Harley and Kevin Gray’s sparkling clean remaster of this 1957 recording pressed to thick 180 gram vinyl. The original album was already revelatory, but this new edition takes it to even greater heights of glory by being respectful of the artist’s vision and the work of engineer Rudy Van Gelder. The music doesn’t sound remarkably different from an original pressing but there’s clarity and a balance to the mix that sounds like it is drawing this ensemble, which included trumpeter Lee Morgan, drummer Philly Joe Jones and trombonist Curtis Fuller, even closer together. Completing the picture is a second LP of alternate takes that include variations on solos and slight shifts in mood that take this familiar material to entirely new places.
One of the most popular purveyors of vinyl has once again teamed up with the people behind Jazz Dispensary, the imprint dedicated to sounds that pair very well with the ingestion of cannabis, for re-releases of four underappreciated classics from the early ’70s — the time when this American music was splashing within the pools of psychedelic rock, funk and R&B. Each one is on colored vinyl and pressed in limited numbers, which only adds to their overall value. Though this quartet of albums shares a common sensibility and some players, they go on very discrete journeys. Keyboardist Bayeté (aka Todd Cochran) has a spiritual path in mind with an acid-soaked tribute to civil rights leader Angela Davis that understands the need to free both body and soul. Saxophonist Gary Bartz, on the other hand, hopes to lead you to either the dancefloor or the boudoir with some vital assists from Larry Mizell’s tickling synths and Reggie Lucas’ insistent guitar work. Idris Muhammad combines the above approaches, using his tightly wound drums and the vocals of his wife Sakinah to induce a trance-like state. Guitarist Melvin Sparks plays it straighter than any of the other artists in this run of LPs, but within the post-bop swing of tracks like “Dig Dis” and the funked up title track, his solos burst like a shower of sparks.
As with the first volume of this series, the 12 tracks on this LP were taken from the regular live streams that British pop legends The Wedding Present undertook during the pandemic. And, as the title reveals, the group opted for a more reserved approach to their sometimes agitated tunes, using acoustic guitars and softened arrangements. By doing so, the Weddoes cushion the blow of otherwise assaultive songs like “Brassneck” and “Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm,” while also adding some textural variation to classic cuts “Octopussy” and “Blue Eyes.” The other delight of this set is the appearances by former band members Peter Solowka and Paul Dorrington and the always welcome vocals of Amelia Fletcher (Heavenly / the Catenary Wires) on “Nobody’s.” For a band that has had as many lineup changes as The Fall, it’s nice to know leader David Gedge is still keeping in touch with his friends.
The underappreciation of Bay Area noise pop trio Track Star feels especially galling in recent years as their influence is evident within the work of modern artists like Deerhunter and Mo Troper. With those fuzzed out, sugary sounds being freshly added to playlists the world over, it’s a perfect time to revisit Track Star’s 1995 debut album Sometimes, What’s The Difference? via this beefed-up reissue. It’s a perfect overview of the group’s run through the ‘90s and beyond as, in addition to a nicely remastered edition of the original LP, the second disc of this set compiles their 7”s, comp appearances and rare demo tunes. It’s a lot of music, packing 19 tracks onto the additional record (pressed to slightly noisy hunter green wax), but it fits as the trio worked best in short bursts of crooning melody, viscous distortion and dynamics that jump from measured to overdriven without warning.
The return of vinyl-only label Newvelle Records after a pandemic-induced hiatus is one of the best pieces of news to hit the jazz community this year. And the imprint is adding four new titles to the library to close out 2022, starting with a piano trio recording from owner Elan Mehler. Fear not, though; There Is A Dance is no ego-driven undertaking. Mehler remains a generous pianist, dancing haltingly among the rhythms of his collaborators here, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Francisco Mela. The two players respond in kind, matching the delicate splaying of notes and chords with noh-like fluidity and softness. The mood is deliberate as Mehler explains in the liner notes that he was reacting to the feelings of honoring his mother’s passing and the monumental losses we have all faced as a result of the coronavirus. It is an elegy, a balm, a calming soundtrack to see one’s soul from one plane of existence to the next.
I can’t say for sure if the world was really clamoring for a 25th anniversary vinyl reissue of Aquarium, the debut album by Scandinavian dance-pop group Aqua, but here it is. And for a certain segment of the population, this is news to be celebrated. Listening to it for the first time on this nice pressing I was sent to review, I get it. The majority of the tracks are bouncy, fat-free Eurodisco fun that seems to enjoy the head-spinning contrast between the sticky sweet vocals of Lene Nystrøm and the unnatural sounding bark of René Dif as much as it enjoys squiggling synth tones and awkward metaphors for sex. It’s escapism in musical form. This new edition includes a slick booklet filled with photos from the group’s whirlwind rise in the pop universe thanks to their once-inescapable hit single “Barbie Girl.”
Another 1992 release — L7’s major label debut Bricks Are Heavy — gets a new vinyl pressing, with remastered audio and cover art that sweeps aside the Parental Advisory sticker forced upon the original issue and, on the gold vinyl edition, adds a red hue to go with the bloody fury professed by the quartet on this Butch Vig-produced growler. Engineer Howie Weinberg did a remarkable job polishing up these tracks. The fuzz and slap of each song sounds even fuzzier and more vicious, with a marked tamping down of the trebly quality that zipped through the original release. If there’s anything to knock this release for, it’s that the band and label didn’t do more to it like include some liner notes from the band or a critic who came of age with L7, or some bonus material from the era like their cover of G’N’R’s “Used To Love Him” or some live tunes. The album works very well on its own, but I’m always hungry for more.
As we continue to receive pandemic records from artists who found their tours and momentum sidelined by global shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, it seems like the intensity and breadth of those albums continues to grow. Sorcha Richardson’s second full-length, for example, was conceived and recorded mostly in the house that once belonged to the singer-songwriter’s grandparents. But instead of the quiet, desperate intimacy that would suggest, this Irish artist reached beyond the walls and beyond the borders of her home. She worked with musicians in L.A. to flesh out these lush art-pop tunes and, lyrically, drew from the blushes of a new love and a deeper appreciation for both her Dublin home and the places she’s been. The result is an intimate sprawl, suffused with the glee and fear of new love and images from the twilit streets and pubs that she haunted in her young life.
There’s an unaffected quality to Nicole Schneit’s vocals — just tuneful enough to stay within the confines of her compositions but untrained enough to call up the spirits of the ’90s indie scene or the freewheeling approach of early American punk singers. The key difference is that Schneit, who writes and records under the name Air Waves, surrounds her voice with music that is rich and full in the manner of current superstars like Phoebe Bridgers and her guest on this new album Cass McCombs. The material here is served very well by crisp production work that surrounds the senses in washes of synth and glowing drum tones and a 45 RPM vinyl pressing that lets the low end burst forth and the lovely sentiments of songs like “The Roof” and “Wait” bob right to the surface.
If last year’s Candlepower was a soft opening to the career of singer-songwriter Marina Allen, Centrifics is the big event. The temperament of the music — a powerful and occasionally playful hush-a-boom of folk-leaning pop — remains, but the curtains have been pulled back further to reveal a grander emotional scope and a wider field of instrumentation courtesy of producer Chris Cohen and co-engineer Johnny Kosmo. Allen has said that, in writing this material, the idea was to keep saying “yes” to whatever ideas came her way. A brilliant decision as she dares to take chances like repeating the phrase “What am I looking at?” over and over in the chorus of “Gardiner’s Island” to strangely dazzling effect and actually seeing some hope within herself and the world around her throughout songs like “Getting Better” and “New Song Rising.” Considering what’s been in the headlines lately, that might be Allen’s bravest move yet.
A wonderful development in the jazz / soul communities has been the return of organ-led groups like the trio fronted by Delvon Lamarr and this ensemble headlined by Miami-based Hammond wizard Adam Scone. This outfit distinguishes itself by not going the Jimmy Smith / Ronnie Foster straight funk route. The hard pounding grooves are there, but are given some much-needed respite on tracks like “Anadira” and “All These Bad Things” that take more spiritual jazz and psychedelic soul turns. Scone also wends in the influence of his travels in Brazil and the Cuban community in his adopted home of Florida — a move that gives his six person chorus and the backing strings a lot of melody and dynamics to play with.
One bell I keep ringing over here at Record Time HQ is how great it is to be a collector of jazz vinyl these days. The reissue stream is great, and there is a wealth of fantastic new titles being released on wax every week. One of my favorites of recent vintage is this lovely piano trio record led by Michigan native Matthew Fries. Recorded in a single session last July with bassist John Hébert and drummer Keith Hall, Lost Time is, as the title suggests, an homage to both the many months that vanished from our world as a result of the pandemic and the lives that ended along the way. Fries touches on that last theme with stunning results on the challenging “Heroes,” written as a tribute to Chick Corea, and the closing title track, a ballad that honors the pianist’s late mother with sparkling flurries of notes and a starburst of a solo from Hébert. Another stunning trio record being released this month comes from Yosef Gutman, a bassist based in Jerusalem whose soft touch and melodic smarts calls to mind late period Charlie Haden. The playing on this session with drummer Ofri Nehemya and pianist Omri Mor is exploratory, with each musician teasing sound from their chosen instruments with a welcome curiosity and care. The songs don’t so much roll forward or swing. They drift with a diaphanous flow, letting the light and air flood through each phrase and note.
Yosuke Fujita is one of the more fascinating figures in the experimental music community, primarily due to the methods he uses to create sound. He has built his own pipe organ that he controls through a hand pump, and, more recently, constructed a water instrument that amplifies the sound of liquid flowing between aquariums. Both are responsible for much of the three pieces on NOISEEM, an album that edits and mixes work from live performances in London and Tokyo. Describing the two pieces on this LP risks reducing their power as they are challenging longform improvisations that progress from burbling natural sounds into long organ drones or AutoTuned vocal squiggles. They build and recede like tidal waves, threatening to cause chaos but dissipating and smoothing out before any real damage can be meted out.
The companion album to last month’s Midnight Rocker finds On-U Sound majordomo Adrian Sherwood doing what he does best: sending the original recordings he made with reggae vocalist Horace Andy through his dubbed out, glitchy audio filter. And in true soundsystem form, the legendary producer turns this material inside out with the help of a pair of MCs that toast their way through a quartet of tracks and splash additional colors all over the studio walls with blasts of echo and reverb and an overlay of steely, cybernetic circuitry that gives this entire session a synthetic patina. Pairs well not only with Midnight Rocker, but would also mesh with Mad Professor’s reworking of Massive Attack’s Protection or Sherwood’s forthcoming remix of Spoon’s Lucifer on the Sofa in a space dub DJ set.
Is it too early to be listening to holiday music? Not in this world it ain’t. You don’t want to get caught out at your family get together without new wax to spin, do you? A great holiday soundtrack is this 2012 compilation produced by Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk and Sara Matarazzo that has been reissued on festive red or red and green splatter vinyl. It’s a collection that leans heavily indie and heavily in favor of Funk’s fellow Portland artists like The Shins, AgesandAges and Y La Bamba. But surprise gifts abound with appearances by Sir Paul McCartney putting his own spin on “The Christmas Song,” the great Irma Thomas tearing “May Ev’ry Day Be Christmas” into tinsel and a splashy opening rendition of “Sleigh Ride” courtesy of fun. If some of the bass tones on the vinyl run a little hot, as is the case with “The Man With Bag” as performed by Funk’s side project Black Prairie, just tell yourself it’s because the master tapes got too close to the chestnuts roasting on an open fire.