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 live album from Father John Misty, a reissue of Bob Seger’s earliest recordings, a collection of ELO’s ‘70s singles and some gorgeous sound art from Ian William Craig.
Father John Misty – Live At Third Man Records (Third Man)
The ongoing series of LPs that Jack White’s Third Man Records have been releasing over the years, which captures performances from musical acts and comedians in the record shop’s Blue Room, is the current gold standard for live recordings. The engineers cut the tunes directly to acetate as they happen, and then press them to vinyl for the masses. The resulting releases sound fantastic, and as close to actually being in the room as one can get through the grooves of a record.
The label’s latest installment is a document of an acoustic set by Father John Misty that went down last year in the afternoon before he played a sold out show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. It’s a spotless set of tunes, taken from his first three albums, stripped back to just vocals and guitar and not losing a bit of the wit and despair and tuneful brilliance in the process. In fact, without the lush backdrop of his marvelous musical arrangements, it’s even easier to revel in the expanse of his lyrical imagery and the weight he gives it through his booming tenor. The rapturous quiet that greets every song on this set is further evidence that that feeling is not an isolated one.
ELO – The UK Singles Volume One (1972-1978) (Epic/Legacy)
The release of this boxed set comes at the perfect time: just as Jeff Lynne and the new version of his symphonic rock project Electric Light Orchestra heads out on a tour of Europe. That’s surely no coincidence. But even if with the promotional wind in its sails, this tidy collection still feels like a welcome addition to the many, many compilations of the band’s work from their commercial peak in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. True to its name, the little set is stuffed with repressings of the fifteen 45s that the group released in the United Kingdom in their heyday, and the four-song ELO EP that was released to promote Three Light Years, a 1978 boxed set that pulled together the group’s first three non-Roy Wood albums.
Being an ELO singles collection, there are few songs here that should be mysteries to fans of the group. This hits all the highlights, from “Living Thing” to “Telephone Line” to “Showdown,” etc. And they all sound spectacular here, brought to life with crystalline fidelity on these 45 RPM vinyl pressings. Even the colored wax singles included don’t suffer or get bogged down with surface noise. This set is, however, a chance to mess around with ELO’s deep cuts. Most of the b-sides here are taken from the band’s albums but aren’t the ones that get played on oldies radio stations. More’s the pity as the lovely “One Summer Dream” and Wood’s delirious “First Movement (Jumping Biz)” would sound nice tucked in a heavy rotation playlist between Beach Boys and Steely Dan.
Living Colour – Time’s Up (Epic/Megaforce)/Mike Doughty – Live At Ken’s House (Snack Bar/Megaforce)
The vinyl boom of recent years have created a lot of opportunists looking to cash in on the massive markups that they can enjoy with the creation of new wax. But a few companies have arrived to use the trend for a good cause. Mindful Vinyl, for example, has been releasing a batch of interesting LP reissues as a way to raise money for The Jed Foundation, a organization that provides mental health resources and support for young people and the adults in their lives.
In keeping with their name, MV has been careful about the artists and releases that they’ve loaned their name and energy to. In the past, that has included a vinyl issue of the soundtrack to Silver Linings Playbook, a film that centers on a character with mental health issues, and an anniversary release of The Geto Boys’ Mind Playing Tricks.
Their latest releases are not as pointed but still very worthwhile: the reissue of Living Colour’s 1990 album Time’s Up and a 2014 live album of Mike Doughty performing songs from his former band Soul Coughing. The former is an especial treat as it betters the initial vinyl version of the record by stretching it over two LPs, thereby giving the energy and weight of songs like “Type” and “History Lesson” a needed sonic boost. The latter, originally released with the help of a crowdfunding campaign, is a fascinating document as Doughty had more fully come to terms with his past work and used it as an opportunity to rework material from the three Soul Coughing albums to fit his then-present experiences and talents. Hence, his guitar playing plays a more prominent role and the arrangements get fussed with to make them sound far less synthetic and glossy.
Lenny Kravitz – Mama Said/Are You Gonna Go My Way/Circus/5 (Virgin/Universal)
Considering Lenny Kravitz’s retro leanings, it’s a surprise that only one of his ‘90s-era albums was released on vinyl in the U.S., and that one of them wasn’t put out on wax until just now. The format is befitting his tendency at the time for throwback sounds that evoked the psychedelic pop of the ‘60s and the funk-rock of the ‘70s. And hearing them today on LP, they sound perfect for the medium, marked by full, round bass tones and putting his playful mixing ideas into bold relief (the album version of Are You Gonna Go My Way’s title track is filled with fun details that got washed out in the single release). There’s also the added incentive of bonus tracks tacked on to the end of all the records save Mama Said, fleshing out the story of each point in Kravitz’s early career nicely.
The quality of each LP varies a bit. There’s some noticeable clipping that happens during some of the more aggressive moments on Are You Gonna Go My Way, and the pressing of 5 is noticeably quieter than the rest. At the same time, Kravitz’s love of analog recording techniques and vintage instruments have proven to be beneficial when transferring these 20+ year old tunes to wax. The effects of the transfer to a digital medium—a flattening and separating of the sonic elements—have been removed, making for material that sounds so much more alive and electrifying.
Josh King – Into The Blue (Dynamic Soundworks)
As this column should hopefully have proven out, not all vinyl pressings are treated as well as others. That’s surely not news to the serious collectors out there but for the folks who are looking at purchasing LPs more as a lifestyle accessory than a serious medium to hear their favorite music, this might be a surprise. I was reminded of that point with the copy of Josh King’s otherwise wonderful album Into The Blue that crossed my desk. The record itself looked like it has been scraping inside a paper sleeve for a few months, giving every song a light crackle and a fair bit of surface hum. It sadly overshadowed what sounded like a fine mastering job and King’s unfussy and unengaging roots rock. Even with the sonic annoyances, I can’t deny how much I’m taken by this record. There’s a simple grace to King’s songwriting. He treats each song respectfully, with his uncluttered ensemble of two guitars, bass, keys and drums sharing in that humility. It’s easy to try for this sound but it’s difficult to do it well. King and co. have it down pat. This one deserves a reissue right quick.
Bob Seger and the Last Heard – Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings (1966-1967) (ABKCO)
Long before he became a paragon of Midwestern meat and potatoes rock, Bob Seger was one of hundreds of musicians in the ‘60s trying to break out of the club scene in his native Detroit. He had the talent and ambition but had to find the right sound to push him into the theaters and stadiums that he fills on the regular today. That meant trying out different styles and approaches, cutting them to 45s and hoping for some radio airplay.
This new collection pulls together the material from a handful of singles that Seger and his band The Last Heard recorded during a feverish year-long stretch. It fleshes out a period of his career that he often wishes we would forget about. He has little to be embarrassed about as the majority of the tracks here are killers, a blend of R&B swing and hard charging garage rock fit for dancing, drinking and carousing. There are diversions into pastiches of Dylan (“Persecution Smith”), James Brown (“Sock It To Me Santa”) and the Beach Boys (“Florida Time”) as a way to catch commercial lightning in a bottle but even those come off as more spirited and charming than some of the Nuggets rabble.
Goblin – Profondo Rosso + Phenomena/Keith Emerson – Inferno (Waxwork)
In honor of the 78th birthday of director Dario Argento (and just in time for the release of a remake of his greatest film Suspiria), Waxwork Records has put their considerable resources and eye for detail to the re-release of three film soundtracks from the Italian giallo master’s ‘70s and ‘80s output. All have been expanded out to feature the full score from the films, and two of them have never been committed to vinyl before.
The cream of this crop is Profondo Rosso, a soundtrack which marks the first time Argento worked with Italian psych-prog outfit Goblin. The group was the director’s second choice after Pink Floyd proved unavailable but they turned out to be crucial to the feel of this 1975 blood-soaked murder mystery. They lend the film a perfect freak-jazz backdrop that still feels explosive and sometimes dizzying. This triple LP release brings together every last bit of music from the film, from the rapid pace instrumentals to the creepy children’s voices singing wordless melodies. By the time Goblin and Argento got to 1985 film Phenomena, both the band and the filmmaker had softened their respective tones. So much so that the music feels terribly slick, all drum machines and synths that feel more Harold Faltermeyer than Tangerine Dream. The creeptastic moments, aided well by some operatic female vocals, that Goblin achieves at times on this soundtrack are worth the price of admission. Keith Emerson’s score for Inferno, the 1980 sequel to Suspiria, feels even less dynamic, a surprising admission considering what the keyboardist brought to bands like The Nice and Emerson Lake and Palmer. It’s much more knowingly cinematic, which works fine going along with Argento’s arresting visuals, but doesn’t hold up as well on its own.
Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes – No. 2/Ame Debout/Paix (Anthology)
The first U.S. pressings of three albums by French vocalist Catherine Ribeiro and her oft-changing backing band Alpes feels nothing short of miraculous. Until recently, the ensemble’s work, especially on vinyl, has been incredibly hard to come by without a huge outlay of cash. The good people at Anthology have finally closed that gap for the record collectors of the States with these reissues of the group’s work from the early ‘70s, available individually or collected in a handsome boxed set that comes with a book filled with photos and remembrances from Ribeiro.
The music falls into that lush valley where tributaries of traditional folk, psychedelia and avant garde rock connect. It’s there that the group’s sole permanent member Patrice Moullet and a rotating cast of musicians construct homemade instruments and an unbound approach to composition that eludes your grasp as it beckons you closer.
The extended title track for the 1972 masterwork Paix finds a glimmering duel of bass and electric guitar floating over a gentle percussion rumble and the drifting organ tones played by Patrice Lemoine. That template was broken down to its constituent parts on the previous album Ame Debout, with minimalist tunes that emphasize one instrument and the electrifying sounds that Ribeiro can coax from her voice. It’s her work that truly makes these records unique. She pleas, howls, wails and croons her way through these three albums, using the unusual power of her singing as a force for hopeful political and social change or to just express her psychotropic fueled visions. “I want the supreme madness,” she yelps on “Dingue,” “What good is it to be quiet?/I want to go crazy.” As true now as it was 40 years ago.
David J – Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh (Glass Modern)
Of all the former members of post-punk/goth legends Bauhaus, David J gets perhaps the least love for the work he did as solo act. Here in the U.S., he drew a little bit of attention his way thanks to 120 Minutes putting the video for his 1990 single “I’ll Be Your Chauffeur” in light rotation. But any of his albums before and after that were either never released here or fell through the commercial cracks. A reappraisal of his work can and should begin with this lovely vinyl reissue of his second solo effort Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh.
David sounds fragile on this 1985 release even on the most fictitious tracks. That has a lot to do with his choice of musical accompaniment—often just himself playing acoustic guitar—but there’s an openness to these songs that feel like the product of a haunted soul. The love songs, like the shimmering, saxophone flecked “Boats,” are outcries of youthful heartache and desperation. And the unforgettable “René,” a farewell to a loved one lost to cancer, spills over with agony amid its poignant imagery (“Everything in his room/had turned gold with age/dusting of a manuscript”).
Brocker Way – Wild Wild Country Soundtrack (Western Vinyl)
The score that accompanied Wild Wild Country, the limited documentary series that explored life inside the cult led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, was just as fantastical and strange as the orange clad followers of this wacked out religious leader. Composed by Brocker Way (brother of the series’ co-directors Maclain and Chapman Way), the music shifts genres and moods to meet the needs of the visuals and the rise and fall of this strange community. At times, it flits and dances around, kept earthbound by some rich cello melodies, while other tracks evoke an even more psychedelicized Ennio Morricone and the rubbery electronic work of Oneohtrix Point Never. It’s quite a ride even without the documentary. The vinyl pressing feels like a bit of a lark, even if the record itself is a startling mix of oranges and red. Is there an audience big enough to justify the expense of putting this out? Hard to say considering how fast the viral chatter has moved beyond the source documentary. Having this score widely available is a wonderful thing but digital might have been enough to get the music’s point across.
Matthew Sweet – Altered Beast (Intervention)
With the wind in his sails stirred up by the success of his previous album Girlfriend, Matthew Sweet did what any young musician in his position would have with the follow up: he went for broke. He wrote more daring arrangements that brought in a country element to his power pop attack, dove deeper lyrically and, most importantly, roped in a bunch of his musical idols to join in the fun. The liner notes for Altered Beast read like a who’s who of the pop and post-punk universe with regular collaborators Ivan Julian and Richard Lloyd joined by Big Star’s Jody Stephens, Mick Fleetwood, pianist Nicky Hopkins and Elvis Costello’s drummer Pete Thomas.
Their collective work has never sounded better than it does on this remastered vinyl pressing from the ever-reliable Intervention Records. The album is wisely stretched out to a double LP, with the fourth side taken up by a batch of studio outtakes, some previously unavailable here in the States. They flesh out the story nicely, with even more of Sweet’s ‘70s rock acumen and ‘80s punk playfulness coming to the fore. It all sounds more remarkable than ever thanks to the work of mastering engineer Ryan K. Smith. Every song sounds like it is bursting out of its seams and ready to flatten a major metropolis.
Ian William Craig – A Turn Of Breath: Deluxe Edition (Recital)
The Los Angeles-based label Recital has quietly become one of the premiere sources for sound art, modern classical and all manner of avant garde sonic fare. Much of its brilliance has come by way of the work of its owner Sean McCann, but he has put his keen ear to helping get some vital documents from the past and equally stunning contemporary work into the world. One such album that falls into the latter category is the 2014 release A Turn Of Breath from Ian William Craig. The record is a perfect meeting place for this artist’s past and present interests. He’s a classical trained vocalist and lends his hypnotic singing to most of the tracks here. But his experimental side doesn’t allow his voice to come out clear. He floods the stereo field with crackling distortion, tape hiss and drone, leaving his words mostly a mystery even if the intention behind them still comes through clearly. Even at its most open and direct, the music feels gauzy and distant. Recital just recently brought Breath back into circulation, with this lovely double LP reissue that includes an EP released around the same time and a smattering of bonus tracks. All are just as beautiful and thoughtful and daring as everything Recital has released to date.
Hayley Thompson-King – Psychotic Melancholia (Hard To Kill)
Hayley Thompson-King has put a lot of miles on her classically-trained voice. She’s lent it to the psych project Major Stars and the all-female garage rock trio Banditas. And she’s been kicking around the music scene as a solo artist for the last little while, playing what she calls “psychedelic country.” It’s amazing then that her voice sounds as strong and bold as it does on this, her debut solo release. Released initially last year but only recently committed to wax, this collection is a spirited mish-mash of styles. On one side of the album alone, she moves from grinding fuzzed out punk to a smoldering bit of slow twang to swinging blues to a swaying honky-tonk ballad to a stunning operatic closer composed by Robert Schumann. On every track, her voice maintains its strength and depth. It’s a remarkable and daring record.
Winter & Triptides – Estrela Mágica (OAR)
Did you know it’s fall already? In spite of the calendar, I’m not willing to let go of the summer quite yet. Which is why I’m grateful for the music of L.A. duo Winter & Triptides. Samira Winter and Glenn Brigman truck in that summer feeling, especially that hazy late August feeling when you can feel the temperatures starting to dip but the longer nights and the sunsets are still keeping your spirits up. Their debut LP Estrela Mágica is a vibed out collection of psychedelic pop steeped in the warm waters of Tropicalia and the modern strains of garage rock. It helps too that Winter sings nearly every song in Portuguese, calling to mind the gentle sway of Astrid Gilberto and the more torrid approach of Gal Costa. Find yourself a portable turntable and camp out in your backyard with this one as you soak up as much of the sun as you can before autumn truly takes over.