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 Record Store Day collection of material from an early R&B vocalist, a vital reissue of an early Fleetwood Mac classic and a new art rock gem
Legend has it that, early in his recording career, Elvis Presley heard a demo of a young singer named Jimmy Sweeney and was so entranced by it, he tried—and failed—to match the passion and power he heard on the Sun Studios acetate in his own work. As a result, Sweeney has held a vaunted place in the history of early rock ‘n’ roll, even if he hasn’t been as celebrated as many of his contemporaries. This Record Store Day collection does a huge service for anyone unable to pay collector’s prices for Sweeney’s various 45s and wanting to hear rarities from his personal archives. The finger-poppin’ studio tracks that link Pentecostal church gospel stomp with the sway of country swing are great, but I keep returning to the roughly-recorded demos that highlight Sweeney’s spiritual side and, as with the playful a cappella “Deacon Brown,” his winning sense of humor.
The campaign to reissue all of PJ Harvey’s albums continues with the re-release of her third album and the demos she laid down for the record. Start with Harvey’s home recordings to hear how well-formed her ideas were before she entered the studio with producer Flood and collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey. Using a primitive-sounding drum machine and some simple overdubs, she mapped out the landscape of future classics “Down By The Water” and “Meet Ze Monsta” with exacting detail. Switch over to the fully-fleshed out versions of this same material and the feeling is explosive. Harvey moved far beyond the raw agitation of her first two albums into a richer, almost serpentine sound. The music sounds especially bold and vibrant on this new vinyl pressing. Every song is perfectly balanced, and there’s none of the digital clipping that marred the original CD release.
It feels like Annie Dressner has been working toward her latest album for her entire career. As great as her previous albums have been, there’s something about the lush presentation, under the direction of the singer/songwriter’s husband and producer Paul Goodwin, and its pitch perfect use of jangly guitars and gently played drums that is the perfect backdrop for the charmingly reedy quality of her voice and her humbly metaphoric lyrics. It’s a sound informed by early 20th century American music, roots rock and garage pop, but twisted into shapes that are familiar yet strikingly fresh. With an appearance by Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws, who co-wrote and lends his vocals to the autumnal “Midnight Bus,” and a glistening version of the Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love,” this album is low key one of the best pop releases of 2020.
The third full-length by Boston post-punkers Pixies was the first indication that the quartet was starting to unravel. Reeling from the long promotional push for previous album Doolittle and trying to make room for bassist/vocalist Kim Deal side hustle (The Breeders), the band wrote much of Bossanova on the fly in the studio. And it shows. A good chunk of the material doesn’t feel as well considered and weathered as everything they’d released to that point. The album was also hampered by some truly ugly production decisions by Gil Norton. David Lovering’s drums often sounded sickly and synthetic, and it often felt as if the treble knob was cranked during the mastering process. While there’s no saving the drum tone, the remaster of Bossanova, released last month to celebrate the album’s 30th birthday, tones down music of the original release’s tinniness. Pressing the album on to red wax this time around thankfully didn’t hurt the finished product either. The clang and groan of each surf rock-inspired track is still present and devilishly fun to listen to.
Ana da Silva once said of her band The Raincoats: “We rehearsed for hours, but we always fell apart.” The new album by U.K. trio Still House Plants takes a similar tack, but focuses on the falling apart. Combining studio recordings with live tapes and snippets of songs captured on mobile phones, laptops and Dictaphones, the group’s lurching, crumbling sound seems to perpetually wander in and out of focus and doesn’t come close to settling into a steady groove. Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach’s vocals, which stay just on the edge of tumbling completely out of tune, only adds to the music’s precarious nature. Intentionally or not, Still House Plants has devised the perfect soundtrack for a time in our history where rapid entropy is tearing at our foundational beliefs and our so-called security. When the extinction event is finally on the horizon, I want this on the turntable.
Another alt-rock classic celebrating a birthday this year is the second album by L.A. grunge-punk quartet L7, which has been pleasantly remastered for a new vinyl edition by the group’s former label Sub Pop. More accurately, this version of Smell The Magic is a recreation of the tracklisting for the CD version released in 1991 as the group was on the ascendent. Which means the six tracks from the original 12” release have been augmented by three cover tunes, including one first found on the group’s Sub Pop Singles Club 7”. Confused yet? If so, all you really need to know is that three decades have not diminished the power and energy of these fuzzy, nasty tunes. They still grind and ooze like the four women had spent an hour pounding shots of cheap whiskey and rolling joints on their gatefold of KISS’ Alive before hitting the studio—the perfect mix of sludge and snottiness.
Nashville heavy rock outfit All Them Witches and their label New West Records are going all out with the release of their sixth full-length Nothing as the Ideal—which should drive fans of the band and vinyl collectors a little crazy. There’s a clear vinyl version, one pressed on opaque green vinyl, a tri-color version, a forthcoming audiophile edition (cut at 45 RPM) on purple wax, and a picture disc. While I’d sure like to sample them all to compare and contrast, the clear vinyl release sent at my request sounds mighty fine. The digital source material of these sessions is apparent but the mastering for this release does a nice job pulling out the dynamics of these rambling psych rock tunes with an emphasis on the band’s ample low end. Leader Michael Parks, Jr.’s bass work and the thud of drummer Robby Staebler’s kick drums are given a welcome boost that, at the right volume, you’ll feel in the soles of your feet.
BMG did everything right with this new version of Then Play On, the third studio album by Fleetwood Mac, and the last record by the band to feature the guitar work of Peter Green. The label returned it to the proper running order, previously only available on U.K. pressings, and stretched the music out over three sides of vinyl. All the better to let 53 minutes of music sound as rich and punchy as it was intended to. To this, the producers also added the two singles released around the same time: “Oh Well,” and the scuzz-psych bliss of “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown).” Combined with a sharp remaster and a lovingly designed booklet that features remembrances from Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, this re-release is the perfect tribute to Green, who passed away in July. Chances are you’re well aware of this era of the band, but if all you know of the Mac is Rumours, you owe it to yourself to spend some time with Then Play On. It’s a great transition period piece, finding the band moving slowly away from the heavy blues of their first few years and into more ruminative territory.
If you’re a regular collector of Ethiopiques, the CD series collecting music from Ethiopia, or a dedicated student of the culture of the African nation, then you are likely familiar with Ayalew Mesfin. Either on his own or with his Black Lion Band, Mesfin recorded a number of 7” singles that fused Ethiopian-style singing with some fierce, funky, horn-filled grooves. And if you loved what you’ve heard of Mesfin’s work, you’ll want to snap up this five-LP set quickly—it is as close as we are going to get to a complete discography of this underappreciated artist. Not only an impressive feat of archival mettle, the set also owes a lot to some fine mastering work that smooths over the reality of where many of these tracks were sourced from (40+ year old singles and aging tapes). The instruments—hard picked guitar and bass, organ, drums, and that uplifting horn section—are all perfectly placed, and give way to Mesfin’s soulful vocals. Considering the quality of the equipment being used, it still sounds about 20 years older than the reality of its ’70s-era birth, but that only makes the music seem that much purer and heartfelt. Mesfin and his comrades needed to get these songs out of their souls anyway that they could.
After the Olivia Tremor Control split up in 2000, singer/songwriter W. Cullen Hart gathered together some of his ex-bandmates and friends (including Neutral Milk Hotel leader Jeff Mangum) to continue the work that his former project had begun with his new project Circulatory System. To the point that a blind taste test convince some folks that this first album by Hart’s new endeavor (originally released in 2001 and being reissued on vinyl this month) this is a lost OTC recording. What sets Circulatory System apart is its focus on Hart’s love of dreamier psychedelia and his ability to create songs that sound equal parts loose and precise. The heady production feels at times like it was recorded in a day long blur, with multiple voices, horns, and stray sounds thrown into the mix. But multiple listens unveil just how meticulously this was put together. Each moment feels deeply considered and sweated over—as if attacked with the mathematical fervor of the early space program. A few listens of this in the right, shall we say, headspace, could take you to similar glorious heights.
For the first part of his career, Brazilian guitarist Piry Reis plied his wares in support of others—jazz composer Egberto Gismonti, vocalist Célia, psych-soul ensemble Piri—so that it took until 1980 to finally and fully step out on his own. His self-titled debut melds all his previous experience together for a soulful collection of songs that skirts the edge of jazz and funk while staying rooted to the spirit of his home country’s musical legacy. Reis also colors these songs with a loopiness that swims through the liquid flow of otherwise very serious material. Whether acceding to the demand for this rare album (median price for original copies is over $200 on Discogs) or just wanting to stamp his name a little firmer into the history books, Reis has overseen a remaster and re-release of his debut, tacking on an alternate version of “No Risco Do Relâmpago” that gives it a thrilling acid-fusion makeover worthy of Pat Metheny or Weather Report.
Originally issued on CD by Fantasy Records in 2010, this collection of tracks written by pianist Vince Guaraldi as part of his longtime association with the films and TV specials spun off from Charles Schulz’s beloved comic strip has been given a vinyl reissue by Craft Recordings—with a short run of red vinyl copies available through Vinyl Me, Please. It’s a somewhat strange compilation too, filled out by two renditions of Guaraldi songs recorded by pianist George Winston and feeling like a further squeezing of Schulz’s creative property for more commercial gain. That doesn’t entirely take away from the delight of hearing the bouncy “Linus & Lucy,” the funky as hell “Little Birdie” and rarer cuts like “Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair),” but it also feels like a further diminishing of the wide-eyed wonder of these characters and stories.