Category Archives: Vinyl colored

KHRUANGBIN—Con Todo El Mundo

Album: Con Todo El Mundo

Artist: Khruangbin

Label: Dead Oceans

Release Date: January 26, 2018

https://deadoceans.com

The Upshot: Long, cooling drones, funky surf guitar lines, angular Middle Eastern twang and more from the Texas trio.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

Khruangbin brings the sleepy funk in a second full-length, unspooling long, cooling drones that twitch faintly with syncopation. The Texas trio weaves bass and guitar in slippery conversation, Laura Lee’s low-end licks working at angles with Mark Speer’s surf guitar lines, overlapping, interconnecting, but never quite in unison, as DJ Johnson colors the rhythmic structure with interesting bits of rattling, chiming, plinking percussion.

The disc’s first half is most engrossing, especially the slinky, smouldery swagger of “Lady and Man,” which whips up funk intensity with explosive starts and stops. “I went to college,” sing-songs Lee as the cut unfolds, “I could have been a doctor…could have been a lawyer.”  It’s one of the few tracks with words, albeit much-repeated, trance-y words, as laid back as the music. “Maria Tambien,” the single, is surfier, almost like the Mermen, and has some of the same angular Middle Eastern twang as Richard Bishop’s Freak of Araby. It is by far the strongest cut on the album.

Late album tracks drift and drone, pillow-padded with angelic “oohs” and paced for motionless contemplation. “Evan Finds the Third Room,” descends into jam band funk, “Rules” and “Hymn” fall asleep at the switch. There’s definitely a place where quiet storm soul, surf and psychedelic drone come together, but drift too far off, as Khruangbin does late album,  and find yourself marooned in a windless sea, hot, still endlessness all around.

Consumer note: The vinyl version comes on limited edition colored wax.

DOWNLOAD: “Maria Tambien” “Lady and Man”

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Nightshining (Vol. 26) LP

Album: Nightshining (Vol. 26) LP

Artist: Various Artists

Label: Vinyl Moon

Release Date: October 20, 2017

 

https://www.vinylmoon.co/volume026/

The Upshot: One of the few vinyl subscription services that provides a genuinely meaningful way to digest new music and build your vinyl collection at the same time.  

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

With the resurgence of vinyl there are plenty of subscription services out there not worth the price of admission. Thankfully this is not the case with the Vinyl Moon mix tape, on a record concept that offers on a monthly basis, to the musically curious, two sides of astutely curated songs. It’s a cool concept, and one that aims to satisfy your vinyl porn fetish at every turn (I’m talking to you Fred Mills). [Yep. He’s a sick one. —#Vinylporn Ed.] From the music to the deep purple vinyl to the sleeve art, it’s a beauty to behold. Nightshining’s songs and associated artwork give one the sense of being lost in a foreign metropolis. The assembled images that were taken somewhere in China, remind me of some of my earliest memories of Shanghai. I recall wandering around on my bike and just staring at the buildings with their odd shapes and colors, coupled with the strange scents wafting in the air, feeling that I was a million miles from home. Caught with that final glow in the sky before things go black, these images, shot by photographer Marilyn Mugot, are worth the price of admission alone. But hey, this isn’t an unboxing review, so let’s get to the music.

Side A begins with Kan Wakan’s “Phantasmagoria Pt. 1.” Dark and melancholic, the song is a real stunner that’s part jazzy with hints of Massive Attack/Portishead embedded within. The next amazing tune is by a band called Shy Girls, whose track “Why I Love” does a beautiful job of mixing an icy remoteness over a river of passion. It’s a really sad and reflective piece that makes me want to hear more from this group. Rounding out side A is the band Mustard and the Silverfish, with the track “Jubilee Green,” a slightly off-kilter psychedelic pop tune that revolves around what sounds like a Hammond B3 and a Moog, high-as-a-kite-vocals, and flanged out drums to yield a narcotic effect that was hard to shake. Side B’s standout tracks include the Chameleons-like track “Nevada,” by Brooklyn band Hypoluxo and imbued with a distinct eighties vibe. Leo Law’s “Brothers and Sisters” is a brilliant track from this UK singer songwriter, and as the liner notes say this is barely his second recorded song. Funky, soulful and totally chill, this track is perfect for listening in your room as the sun sets in the winter sky.

Side B definitely wasn’t as strong musically as Side A, but even so, the number of unknown bands that I heard and the format that I heard them on proved to be a unique experience that I won’t soon forget. This is a great idea that I hope will gain some traction as one of the more meaningful ways to digest new music and build your vinyl collection at the same time.

DOWNLOAD: “Phantasmagoria Pt. 1” “Why I Love” “Jubilee Green” “Nevada” “Brothers and Sisters”

 

ASK ‘EM NO QUESTIONS, THEY’LL TELL YOU NO… Mudhoney’s “L.i.E”

Mudhoney by Vincent Vannes

As a new live album recorded on tour in 2016 demonstrates, the Seattle band is always morphing, and always, always, always is a monster live band.

BY JENNIFER KELLY

The set starts in a monstrous wall of feedback, a fuzzed out roar that parts, like primordial swamp for the fuzz-clustered, two guitar crocodilian riff of “Fuzz Gun,” a form of guitar mayhem first plotted before Nirvana broke, before grunge became a fashion statement, when it seemed like the primitive stomp and psychedelia skree of Mudhoney might become, if not the next big thing, something bigger and more lucrative than the journeyman hard rock outfit they eventually turned into. That cut, and the one that follows is “Get into Yours,” from the 1989 S-T, are a quarter-century old when we hear them now, somewhere in Eastern Europe, but they sound just as relevant, just as hard and blunt and distended with volume as they must have when Mark Arm and Steve Turner first thought of them.

Mudhoney’s new live set, L.i.E. (Sub Pop), a/k/a Live in Europe, collected from a 2016 tour, is bluntly, ferociously coherent, though it spans three decades, seven albums and one Roxy Music cover.

The set list leans a bit on 2013’s Vanishing Point, then and now, the band’s most recent full-length (though a new one is coming in 2018), with an extended, pedal-fucked, guitar-spiraling, through-the-rabbit-hole treatment of “The Final Course,” followed by the slyer, more compact boogie of “What to Do with the Neutral” (“What to do with the neutral/It’s not an easy problem,” sings Arm, who has demonstrably spent more time on extremes). The post-millennial Mudhoney albums have an air of comfortable free-ness, of settling in with what the band has, of getting over undue expectations, and their loose, humorous bluster colors this live performance. But they make perfect sense in conjunction with older material — the explosive vamp of “Judgment Rage Retribution and Thyme” from 1995’s My Brother the Cow, the viscous chug of 2009’s Piece of Cake’s “Suck You Dry.”

You might think that covering Roxy Music is an odd choice, but “Editions of You,” is one of Ferry’s rougher, more rocking outings. Mudhoney gets at the twisted, clanging guitar line, pumping it up with pummeling drums, and obliterating any vestigial crooning in a barrage of Arm’s frantic shout-ranting. It sounds, in the end, like Mudhoney. It’s followed by the best cut on the disc, the long, fever-blistered rampage of “Broken Hands,” which encapsulates blues-like dirge and psychedelic freakery in its slow-moving, drum-rattling procession.

Which sounds completely different but also like Mudhoney, always what it is, always morphing, and always, always, always a monster live band.

Incidentally, Mudhoney and Sub Pop made an intriguing move with the album by not releasing it on CD, just vinyl and digital. And then they paid further tribute to vinyl collectors (Such as moi. — Blurt Wax Ed.) by also pressing up a special European-only, limited-to-500-copies version pressed on clear vinyl and boasting different gatefold artwork from the standard US pressing, it’s on 180gm CLEAR VINYL. And initial copies came with a 7” Bonus single. (“Touch Me I’m Sick” b/w “Where the Flavor Is”). Nice touch, gents.

Incoming: Moon Duo 12″ Covering Suicide, Stooges

By Blurt Staff

The Sacred Bones label’s dynamic duo – that would be Moon Duo – is set to drop a new 12″ single on which they cover Suicide’s “Jukebox Babe” and the Stooges’ “No Fun.” Vinyl hounds will have plenty of reason to cheer: it will be available on both white vinyl (with a bonus poster included) and standard black vinyl, for a total of 2000 copies.

According to the band,

“We started playing ‘No Fun’ after BBC6 Radio asked us to record an Iggy song for his 70th birthday. We added it to our set to work it out for the session and kept playing it every night because everyone loves that song. We worked up a version of ‘Jukebox Babe’ because our sound engineer Larry got it stuck in his head and was singing it all the time. We figured, we may as well play it if we’re going to hear it all the time.

“The Stooges and Iggy, and Suicide/Alan Vega/Martin Rev, are all huge influences on us. But we never want to do faithful covers of great songs, because what’s the point. So we tried to push both of the tracks in less obvious directions, incorporating other influences, like California psych and cosmic disco, giving them more of a summer vibe. We knew Sonic Boom was working outside of Lisbon, so we asked him to produce the tracks, recording them in August for maximal summer heat.”

Based on the Suicide track alone, which is streaming at the Sacred Bones site, it’s a killer platter. Moon Duo are pros at limited edition releases, incidentally; last year’s two-part Occult Architecture EP was available as two colored vinyl pieces, and most of their other records have had some collectible element such as numbered, colored vinyl, bonus 7″, etc.

Moon Duo kick off a UK tour at the end of January.

WEDDING PRESENT – George Best (30th Anniv. Deluxe Ed.) LP

Album: George Best (30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) LP

Artist: Wedding Present

Label: Happy Happy Birthday To Me

Release Date: November 24, 2017

http://hhbtm.com/

The Upshot: Nevermind the reissues, here’s the Gedge: a classic album gets revisited for the newly awakened vinyl generation.

BY FRED MILLS

Thirty years on, it’s hard to mount even a tepid argument against the out-of-the-gate brilliance of the Wedding Present’s 1987 debut. It’s certainly a product of its times, what with the omnipresent, uber-c86 guitar strum arrangements; bandleader David Gedge’s deep, resonant, and deeply emotive Morrissey-meets-Ian-Curtis vocals; and a general proto-indie rock, post-post-punk vibe that would, in a few years, grip the Brit-pop pop’d British imagination as lesser artists such as Blur, Suede, and Pulp stormed the charts.

The 12-songer has been reissued in numerous formats over the years, notably a 1997 CD via Cooking Vinyl that added a whopping 11 tracks. Archival specialist Edsel Records also weighed in with a sprawling 3-CD, 1-DVD box featuring those bonus cuts plus a slew of 1987-88 live material. But Athens, Georgia, label Happy Happy Birthday To Me has come up with an artifact that is pure catnip for the WP collectors – not to mention just plain vinyl aficionados. George Best 2017 arrives as a deluxe red wax edition housed in a two color screen printed sleeve whose artwork recaptures the titular red-jerseyed football player minus the field/bleachers background, lending the LP a kind of Warholian pop art sensibility. Which is appropriate, eh? “Pop” art was never sweeter. (Download card is included, and if ordering direct from the label, the deluxe edition snags you a special tote bag and badge. When those are gone there is also a black vinyl version.)

The Wedding Present would go on to subsequent heights, of course; 1991’s Sea Monsters held its own during the ascent of the aforementioned Britpop bands, and 1996’s Saturnalia remains an enduring, if wholly underrated, gem. But George Best wins the proverbial “quintessential” badge for Gedge because, as an opening statement and salvo, it’s up there with pretty much any long-playing debut you’d care to list. Hats off to HHBTM for reminding us of this. Now, let those listicles begin…

DOWNLOAD:  “It’s What You Want That Matters,” “Everything Thinks He Looks Daft,” “Getting Nowhere Fast”

POCKET FISHRMEN – The Greatest Story Ever Told LP

Album: The Greatest Story Ever Told LP

Artist: Pocket Fishrmen

Label: Saustex

Release Date: November 17, 2017

www.saustex.com

The Upshot: Punk rock like they useta make via re-recordings of the Austin provocateurs’ back catalog o’ tunes.

BY FRED MILLS

Art-punks or punk art? These guys ain’t tellin’! From Austin (but of course), Pocket Fishrmen reportedly disbanded in 2000 following a colorful 14-year run. How colorful? The band’s 1988 debut 45 was an ode to “Amy Carter,” who at the time was working on a law degree at the University of Texas—history does not record whether or not this invocation of former President Jimmy Carter’s daughter put the quartet on the Secret Service radar, but even if it did, the ‘men were far too busy moving forward, penning and performing such sensitive numbers as “Go Go Saddam Hussein,” “One Blowjob, One Handjob, One Vagina,” “Pot Mountain,” “Priapus Power,” “Yen For Your Yang,” “Flaccid is the Night,” and “Gay Jew Conquistador.” Yeah, the pre-millennial era was a different time and a different place in terms of how we viewed satire, provocation, and political correctness within a punk rock context. Not to mention songs about your dick. Just ask Pocket Fishrmen peers such as the Meatmen, the Mentors, the Queers, and the Dickies.

The Greatest Story Ever Told is a career overview, re-viewed via re-recordings of “classic” fan and band faves. It may or may not be strictly for longtime devotees, but I must admit that if I were 16 or 17 and I came across this band on, say, Spotify (which it is), I’d summarily blast the shit out of it from my upstairs bedroom and dare my parents to come in and ask if I’d finished my homework. Rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be self-regenerating. For me, I’m particularly partial to the straight-up thrash of “Colonoscopy” (and not just because I recently had my first experience in riding the snake), the anthemic Pistols/Ramones-a-fied “Queen of the Gorillas,” the synth-strafed, power-chorded classic rock mutation that is “High on Rock and Roll,” and of course the aforementioned, brilliantly nimble “Amy Carter” (because I still own the original single)—I seriously doubt there will be any musical tributes in the years to come for Barron Trump, so this one will always be unique in its own right.

Fans of the sturdy vinyl format (standard black or limited red, take your pick) are particularly well-served with the release because the 14-song LP is abetted with a bonus 16-song CD. That’s a whole lotta fishin’ goin’ on, folks. And judging from the poster below, it’s still goin’ on….

DOWNLOAD: “Amy Carter,” “Priapus Power,” “Yen For Your Yang,” “Colonoscopy,” “High on Rock and Roll,” “Flaccid is the Night”

ALLEN RAVENSTINE – Terminal Drive 12” EP

Album: Terminal Drive 12” EP

Artist: Allen Ravenstine

Label: Smog Veil

Release Date: September 01, 2017

www.smogveil.com

The Upshot: Synth mania and tape manipulation from the Pere Ubu mad scientist, plus accessorized string bass by a fellow Cleveland-ite. It’s the now sound of 1975!

BY FRED MILLS

Longtime Clevo watchers surely know the Allen Ravenstine name, from his pioneering protopunk as synth player/resident mad scientist for Pere Ubu to his solo work and contributions to the likes of the Red Crayola and David Thomas & The Wooden Birds. Terminal Drive is a single 16-minute track recorded in Cleveland during April and May of 1975, with Ravenstine on synth and tapes, plus Albert Dennis on string bass; the two had previously worked together in short-lived experimental/improvisational outfit Hy Maya, a project of artist Robert Bensick that also featured Ubu drummer Scott Krauss. (Stay tuned for more on the latter: Smog Veil is next releasing a deep-archive Hy Maya 2LP set.)

Smog Veil, of course, has long championed all things O-HI-O, and this nicely appointed red vinyl/one-sided 12” EP is the latest in the label’s “Platters Du Cuyahoga” series, which to date has included titles from the Schwartz Fox Blues Crusade (reviewed HERE), the Mr. Stress Blues Band, the Robert Bensick Band, and, coming later this month, aforementioned Hy Maya. The label never cuts any corners, either, specializing in meticulously researched liner notes—here, a full-sized 8-page booklet boasting lengthy notes from Clevo scene authority Nick Blakey and essays from both Dennis and Ravenstine. Plenty of vintage photos are included as well. (The record is also available on CD and digital download should you, for some strange reason, not desire a sweet slab of red wax.)

Ravenstine’s comments are delightfully deadpan, describing what downtown Cleveland looked (and smelled!) like in the mid ‘70s, living in a fourth floor walkup in a reliably seedy, ruined neighborhood, and talking about the gear he used to record Terminal Drive: “I repurposed a kitchen hutch to hole my EML 200, a 300 which was a sort of mixing and switching unit that had a telephone style keypad with sixteen keys and post for assigning a pitch to each one, and the Teac [3340 reel to reel tape recorded w/10” reels] and set it up in the bedroom.” As these things go, a 6:43 excerpt of the recording wound up on an odds ‘n’ sods disc included in the ’96 Pere Ubu box set Datapanik In The Year Zero, but for years since then it appeared that the tapes had been lost. Then in 2016 a cassette surfaced in a friend’s archives, one side labeled “Allen Ravenstine April-May 1975,” and voila! here we have Terminal Drive.

It’s challenging, mesmerizing, and at times downright haunting stuff, a soundtrack to the urban decay Ravenstine must have witnessed on a daily basis from his apartment window. Long, groaning, bowed chords from Dennis are abetted by Ravenstine’s synth belches and drones; at times he creates clinking sounds that suggest a machine plant in operation, others a kind of airy whooshing that could be a sharp breeze whistling down a deserted street, and sometimes just white noise aimed at creating a profound sense of unease in the listener—like that feeling one might have gotten decades ago, in the pre-24-hour-cable-television era, when you’ve fallen asleep in front of the TV only to be jerked awake by the sound of the station abruptly going off the air at 2 a.m. Random distant mutters (or are they synth hiccups?) punctuate the recording as well, adding to the claustrophobic vibe.

Definitely uneasy listening, and probably not for the timid of heart. But for Ravenstine fans, Ubu completists, and Clevo devotees in general, a must-own.

DOWNLOAD: It’s a single track, dummy! (Below, check out a radio edit of “Terminal Drive”)

TALIBAM!/MATT NELSON/RON STABINSKY – Endgame of the Anthropocene + Hard Vibe (LPs)

Album: Endgame of the Anthropocene; Hard Vibe

Artist: Talibam!; Talibam w/Matt Nelson & Ron Stabinsky

Label: ESP-Disk

Release Date: September 22, 2017

www.espdisk.com

The Upshot: Free jazz and fusionesque funk on one platter of extended improv, and mindfucker/synth-strafed Prog for eco-warriors on the other.

BY FRED MILLS

Where the fuck did these Talibam! guys come from?!? Though extant for nearly a decade and a half, their labors upon the downtown NYC jazz, avant, and experimental scene don’t seem to have penetrated the, uh, mainstream mind to date. And it’s vexing to realize I am apparently part of said “mind,” but luckily I’m making up for lost time via these two records. That the venerable ESP-Disk label is simultaneously releasing not one but two of the Talibam! projects would suggest an article (pair?) of faith that we underground musique aficionados should take note of.

First up: Talibam! Proper, with Endgame of the Anthropocene, a document of extreme synth damage that only Aphex Twin’s mom could love. But you will too, and from the get-go, as electronicist Matthew Mottel (CSC Funk Band, Alien Whale, etc.) manhandles his Mini-moog, wrestles his Roland, and yammers with his Yamaha, while accompanist Kevin Shea (Rhys Chatham, Mostly Other People Do The Killing) damages his drums and occasionally takes a percussive detour via his MIDI Marimba Lumina. I did not know they made MIDI marimbas.

It’s a concept album, an extended prognostication upon the eventual fate of Antarctica, for which Mottel and Shea predict international war over who will control the continent’s natural resources, and of course the accompanying eco-destruction. By track three, “Reign of Primordial Tenure on the Ice Shelf,” the duo has locked into a pounding, pulsing, Prog groove easily embraced by contemporary noise-headz and greying veterans of the kosmiche wars of the ‘70s alike. Several tracks take a neo-industrial tack, while others shoot for more minimalist style of psych that’s very Silver Applesish, and it’s all heady, disorienting stuff as befits its presumed dystopian-landscape theme.

Hard Vibe, on the other hand, finds the dynamic duo teaming up with tenor saxist Matt Nelson (Battle Trance, tUnE-yArDs) and Hammond B3 ace Ron Stabinsky (Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Peter Evans Quintet) for a 40-minute improv set titled “Infinite Hard Vibe” (Pts. 1 and 2, representing sides A and B of the vinyl version; they are not stitched together as a single long track for the CD and digital versions, however). Mottel and Shea restrain themselves to a great degree here, at least compared to the Anthropocene session, with Nelson, as the dominant instrumentalist, issuing Ayler-like clarion calls and dissonant clanging tones run through an echo box at times. He’s answered consistently by Stabinsky, like two guys aggressively playing out the windows of their opposite-facing tenement apartments, a grimy alley separating the buildings, each trying to prove to the bums below that he is the neighborhood’s resident badass. Meanwhile, Shea keeps the pulse steady, if at times quite jittery, and Mottel colors in the gaps and around the edges, not necessarily ceding any presumed bandleader duties, but instead lending a unique and consistent texture for the entire session. Apparently somebody picks up an old Keytar at some point, too. And wait’ll you get to the soaring, ecstatic climax during the final minute and a half of the album.

This is not jamming for the sake of keeping a festival audience of seriously baked Deadheads on their toes, but a hearkening back to the great ‘70s jazz/funk/rock/psych jammers of yore. Each of the two tracks is, at turns, intoxicating and awe-inspiring, challenging in the sense that great jazz needs to confront the listener with hard choices.

Consumer note: ESP-Disk and the musicians serve up tasty treats here for the vinyl audience. Hard Vibe is pressed on heavyweight translucent yellow wax, while Anthropocene offers the collector secret handshake with a platter pressed in red with orange and white splatters. Wham-bam, thank YOU, Talibam! gang.

DOWNLOAD: “Cost-Effective Drilling Enabled By Pioneering Technologies and Warmer Climates in the Southern Ocean” (from Anthropocene—damn, I loved typing that title just now); “Infinite Hard Vibe Pt. 2” (Hard VibeI)

JON LANGFORD’S FOUR LOST SOULS

Album: Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls

Artist: Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls

Label: Bloodshot

Release Date: October 21, 2017

www.bloodshot.com

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Well known for his eccentricity, Jon Langford sounds surprisingly straight-laced on this eponymous debut by what appears to be yet another new ensemble. The Welsh-born, Chicago-based journeyman has had a restless relationship with the bands he’s fronted in the past — the Mekons, the Waco Brothers, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and The Three Johns, chief among them — and all these outfits have served to underscore his insurgency. While Jon Langford’s Lost Souls isn’t necessarily equipped to engage him with the mainstream, it does suggest that he’s happy to make music that’s easier to digest, at least as far as memorable melodies are concerned. Finding an even divide between upbeat offerings and sweetly sincere balladry, songs such as “Natchez Trace,” Mystery,” “Masterpiece” and “Waste” emphasize a certain ease and accessibility that makes them readily easy to embrace.

Still, it’s not that Langford has abandoned his rascally ways entirely. “In Oxford Mississippi” boasts a certain amount of sway and swagger, and indeed, “What’s My Name?” finds him as edgy as always. After all, Langford does well to emphasize his peculiar personality. Nevertheless, this certainly seems like his most accessible effort yet, a sign perhaps that after years of being regarded as an odd man out, he’s ready to find that balance between talent and tenacity. Well done, old boy. Well done.

DOWNLOAD: “Natchez Trace,” Mystery,” “Masterpiece”

Ed. note: Over here at the Blurt bunker we dig our vinyl, even more so when it’s colored wax, so it was a no-brainer to order the new Langford LP direct from Bloodshot when word of the amazing splatter/emerald-hued pressing hit. Check out this closeup:

TRUMP THE HALLS WITH VOWS OF FOLLY: The Fifth (or last?) Annual Blurt Christmas Album Guide

While America gets nothing but lumps of coal in its collective stocking this year, we’ve at least got some tunes to help drown out the partisan noise. FEATURING: The Beatles (box pictured above), Minus 5, Bloodshot Records, Joseph Washington Jr., Rattlebag, New West Records, Tav Falco, She & Him, the Chipmunks, and more.

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR, FRED MILLS, JOHN B. MOORE, & UNCLE BLURT

***

THE BEATLES – The Christmas Records (5 out of 5 stars)
Capitol
www.capitolrecords.com

The Beatles’ Christmas records were initially issued to fend off a growing scandal. In 1963, as their popularity grew in their native Britain, membership in the Beatles’ fan club soared. As a result, the beleaguered staff couldn’t process orders in a timely fashion, leading to angry letters from parents complaining that their daughter had sent in her money order but had not, as yet, received the expected fan club greetings from John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

So Beatles publicist Tony Barrow had an idea; make a quick recording specifically for fan club members and send it out post haste to mollify those who’d had to wait so long for a response from the fan club. A 7-inch flexi disc with Christmas greetings was duly sent out, and proved to be so popular a similar flexi was issued for the next six years.

In 1970, with the Beatles now broken up, the fan club issued one more release; a long playing vinyl album that featured all seven Christmas records (the US version has a particularly nice cover). The recordings then went out of print, but have now finally been officially reissued as The Christmas Records, in a box set of seven-inch records packaged in sleeves that are facsimiles of the originals, with each vinyl record a different color.

First, it must be said that the overall presentation leaves something to be desired. Beatles reissues have often been somewhat lacking; consider the barebones CD releases of the 1980s, some of which barely used up a third of the available time on a CD and featured nothing in the way of liner notes. When some thought is put into a project, the results are wonderful, as in the deluxe edition of this year’s Sgt. Pepper’s reissue, which featured bonus tracks and a superb book (the latter worth the price of the box alone).

Of course the Christmas records aren’t in the same league as Sgt. Pepper’s. And as a vinyl-only release, this would’ve been a smash on Record Store Day. But as a general release, it seems remiss to not at least include a download code, let alone bonus tracks (outtakes of the sessions do exist). One could imagine a CD release with all the Christmas records and bonus tracks, along with a deluxe version featuring a CD, download, and the replica singles and/or vinyl album, along with the extras common to such endeavors (a facsimile program of the Beatles’ 1963 or 1964 Christmas shows, for example). As it stands, this might be a release fans purchase purely for cosmetic reasons; as one wag in an Internet comments thread stated, it’ll be something nice to look at while you listen to the bootleg.

Of course, the sound’s naturally better than on those sometimes crackly bootlegs (often taken from well worn copies of the original flexi discs). The records aren’t “Christmas records” in the sense of featuring conventional holiday songs, but more like greetings from the Beatles to their fans. The first three records (1963 to 1965) are primarily spoken word, and on the first in particular the group sounds dizzy over their success: “At this time last year we were all dead chuffed that ‘Love Me Do’ had got into the Top 20 and we can’t believe really that so many things have happened in between already!” John gushes at one point. Not that they take the proceedings seriously; Paul’s message in 1963 is interrupted when he shouts “Ow!” at one point, someone obviously having playfully whacked him (he also advises fans that the group has gone “right off” jelly babies, the Beatles having been deluged with the sweets after mentioning their fondness for them in an interview).

They offer up parodies of Christmas songs between the chat, like John’s reworking of the lyrics to “Good King Wenceslas” in 1963, and the off-key rendition of “Jingle Bells” (complete with kazoo) in 1964. In 1965, they perform a bit of “Auld Lang Syne” in the gravelly-voiced style of Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” Nothing’s sacred; they lampoon “Yesterday” on the 1965 record as well.

By then they’d clearly become bored with the spoken word format, and their growing proficiency in the studio and interest in experimentation led to subsequent Christmas records becoming more elaborate. For 1966, they devise an aural pantomime, “Everywhere It’s Christmas,” with little sketches showing how the holiday is being celebrated around the world. For 1967 (this writer’s favorite Christmas record), they serve up the short piece “Christmas Time is Here Again” that you really wish they’d fleshed out to a full length number (it’s basically the title repeated five times). There are game show parodies (“Well, you’ve just won a trip to Denver and five others! And also, wait for it — you have been elected as Independent candidate for Paddington!”), silly songs, and a tap dance (by Victor Spinetti, co-star in A Hard Day’s Night and Help!).

It was the last time the four Beatles worked on a Christmas record together. As the Fabs increasingly went their separate ways, in 1968 and 1969 they recorded their contributions individually. In 1968, Paul performs a short “Happy Christmas” song, very much in the style of the numbers he did for The Beatles album (aka The White Album) released that year. George introduces Tiny Tim (yes, that Tiny Tim) who sings “Nowhere Man” as only he can. John offers a bitter recitation about the mistreatment he and Yoko (here referred to as “Two balloons called Jock and Yono) have received, even from “some of their beast friends.”

The 1969 record is essentially the John-and-Yoko show, with the two recorded strolling around the grounds of their home in Ascot (Yoko hopes for a “quiet peaceful ‘70s”) and making improvisational music together. George makes a single statement offering Christmas greetings. Ringo sings a short ditty and plugs his latest film The Magic Christian. Paul, safely ensconced in his own hideaway, sings another sweet, if wistful, Christmas song (even his spoken message has a touch of sadness in it).

There’s also — likely unconscious — a nod to the past, when John starts singing “Good King Wenceslas,” as he did on that very first Christmas record. Certainly so many things “happened in between already” since 1963, and by late 1969 the Beatles were on the verge of becoming history.

These Christmas records bring to light another side to the Beatles: their off the wall humor, and the sense of playfulness that’s even there in the later recordings (it makes perfect sense that George Harrison would want to produce a Monty Python film). It would certainly be a fun blast from the past for the Beatlemaniac in your life. Just make sure they have a turntable handy. ­–Gillian G. Gaar

 

THE MINUS 5 – Dear December LP (5 out of 5 stars)
Yep Roc
www.yeproc.com

Santa Scott McCaughey arrives in his sleigh this season, accompanied by Satan’s Elves, Joe Adragna and Peter Buck (you may have heard of him), plus fellow Northwesterners Kurt Bloch, Tucker Jackson, John Moen, and Kevin McCaughey. A host of guest vocalists turn up as well, among them Mike Mills, Colin Meloy, M. Ward, Chuck Prophet, Kelly Hogan, Ben Gibbard, and the Posies, effectively turning what can nominally be described as a collection of quirky, rocking holiday songs that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Minus 5’s most recent full-length, 2016’s delightful Of Monkees and Men. Make no mistake, however—in the indie world, Dear December is a superstar-laden offering that’s artistically on par with Band Aid back in the ‘80s.

Highlights? There’s the wall-of-sound magnificence of “Johnny Tannenbaum,” which features Kelly Hogan and her Flat Five bandmate Nora O’Connor handling the girl-group backing vocals. “Merry Christmas Mr. Gulp-Gulp,” with Dressy Bessy’s Tammy Ealon in call-and-response with McCaughey, has a similar Phil Spectorian vibe.  Twangy, poppy “Festival of Lights (Hanukka Song)” has the Mills turn at the mic, the song credits reading “lead vocals by Mike Mills, featuring Mike Mills.” And the garage-rocking guitar raveup that is “I Still Believe in New Year’s Eve” is McCaughey’s way of bidding everyone a happy and safe annum to come.

Hold that thought: With McCaughey in the hospital at the time of this writing, having suffered a significant stroke while on tour, those wishes of cheer take on an additional meaningfulness. We’re sending good tidings right back atcha, Santa Scott.

Dear December, incidentally, was released as a limited edition Black Friday (Record Store Day) title, and it’s rather unusual. Not only is it pressed on snow-white vinyl, it has a detachable outer front cover that has a bunch of pull-apart hinged “windows” that no doubt reveal sundry gifts underneath them. Of course you have to effectively destroy part of the album to partake of those visual treats, so for collectors…. —Fred Mills

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Bloodshot Records 13 Days of Xmas LP (3 out of 5 stars)
Bloodshot Records
www.bloodshot.com

Looking for that perfect Christmas record to get your buddy who pairs his faded Melvins t-shirt with a pair of cowboy boots? The alt country punk rockers at Chicago’s Bloodshot Record’s got ya covered. On 13 Days of Xmas, the label has pulled together a fine collection of brand new holiday songs and a handful of faithful covers of traditional songs, though, aside from Ron Gallo’s “White Christmas,” the latter are hardly well-known. Bloodshot pulls in many of the folks on their roster like The Yawpers, Murder By Death, Ruby Boots, Ha Ha Tonka and others, as well as some friends of the label to make this one work.

Although it’s a fun record, the quality of the songs here vary. For every stellar track like Ruby Boots’ “I Slept Through Christmas,” or Ha Ha Tonka’s “The List,” there’s a too goofy for its own good track like Devil in a Woodpile’s “The Pagan’s Had it Right.”

The record ends on a beautiful high note, with The Yawpers’ “Christmas in Oblivion.” Not for everyone, but ideal for some. —John B. Moore

REO SPEEDWAGON – Not So Silent Night (2 out of 5 stars)
Rhino

www.rhinorecords.com

“C.mon baby deck the halls! It’s the season to be jolly, baby – wipe those tears from your eyes, it’s CHRISTMASTIME!!” So sings the REO Speedwagon vocalist in the classic rock icons’ take on “Deck the Halls,” revved up to boogie levels and with plenty of musical and lyrical tangents included. Reverent, they ain’t —which, depending on your personal inclinations towards covers of holiday standards, is either refreshing or ghastly. “Winter Wonderland” gets a complete overhaul as well, done up kind of like a Chicago blues, and not all that convincingly, either. (REO Speedwagon is the least bluesy band on the planet.) Me, I tend to prefer traditional renditions, and here, to their credit, the Speedbuggy dudes do indeed serve up their fair share of straightforward covers, including “The Little Drummer Boy” (although it does veer somewhat close to Trans Siberian Orchestra territory), “Blue Christmas,” and “The First Noel.”

Somewhere in the middle of all this is the over-the-top, partly orchestral “Happy Xmas (War Is Over,” which does hit that timeless melody that John and Yoko penned all those eons ago, but ultimately comes off like a rehearsal session for “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” including the gooey backing vocals. Still, it’s well-meaning, and I’m not in a Grinchy mood today, so I’ll give the guys an extra star here. Included is a bonus track, “We Three Kings,” that was not on the original 2009 release of the album. —Fred Mills

 

JOSEPH WASHINGTON JR. – Merry Christmas to You From Joseph LP (3 out of 5 stars)
Numero Group
www.numerogroup.com

Blues/funk/soul bassist Washington has a relatively slim back catalog, but those few records that did slip out apparently fetch fairly respectable prices on the collectors’ market, including 1983’s Merry Christmas to You From Joseph, originally issued on the S&P Music label (which itself appears to be fairly obscure). The ever-diligent archivists at Numero Group, acclaimed for their “Eccentric Soul” volumes and other excursions into the funk and soul hinterlands, have rescued this minor gem in time for this year’s Yule tidings; it was made available – on vinyl –  for the Record Store Day Black Friday event.

What’s unique about Washington’s nine-song set is that the music, while somewhat dated, is all original, so rather than yet another tired chorus of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” you get a peppy slice of funk titled “Rudolph.” Okay, admittedly, Washington nicks most of the original ode’s lyrics, turning extemporaneous in a few spots, and the combination of familiarity and freshness makes the tune fairly compelling. Several of the songs, like “Merry Christmas,” are standard-fare early ‘80s soul, which is to say, not so compelling; the early ‘80s wasn’t particularly kind to the soul oeuvre, Michael Jackson’s reign notwithstanding. But when Washington bears down with da fonk — the bouncy boogie that is “Shopping,” the jazzy, vibraphone-tinged  “Snowing In the East on Christmas” which boasts some positively kooky vocals — he’s inspiring. Whatever happened to this cat? —Fred Mills

RATTLEBAG – A Rattlebag Christmas (3 out of 5 stars)
Self-Released
www.facebook.com/rattlebagmusic

The kids have just found out there’s no such thing as Santa Claus (and like dominos knocking again each other, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, etc.); like an idiot, you bought them the wrong game console for Christmas and grandma sent socks and underwear again. Have we got a festive soundtrack for you!

Rattlebag’s gloriously loud and equally funny four-song entry to the Christmas music market, A Rattlebag Christmas, is the punk rock holiday record everyone from the Sex Pistols to the Dead Kennedy’s forgot to make. Through distorted power chords and bellowed out off-key vocals, the band churns through “Jingle Bless,” “Deck the Halls,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Auld Lang Syne,” all in record time.

Rattlebag provides the ideal soundtrack to those likely getting fuck all for Christmas this year. —John B. Moore

VARIOUS ARTISTS – An Americana Christmas (3 out of 5 stars)
New West
www.NewWestRecords.com

Giving a nod to both Americana’s elder statesmen and the up-and-comers, New West Records – easily one of the genres best labels going right now – has one of the freshest takes on Christmas albums. Despite some solid contributions by Bob Dylan, The Band and Johnny Cash, aside from John Prine’s brilliantly original number “Everything is Cool,” the real standouts here come from New West’s newer artists like Robert Ellis’s cover of “Pretty Paper” and Nikki Lane’s beautifully twangy “Falalalalove You” (Patsy Cline’s heir apparent?). While Christmas albums nowadays are as stale as a plate of Gingerbread cookies left out until April, An Americana Christmas is a refreshing take on the seasonal record.  —John B. Moore

A TAV FALCO CHRISTMAS LP (4 out of 5 stars)
Org Music / Frenzi
www.orgmusic.com / www.tavfalco.com

Memphis raconteur, filmmaker, photographer, and author Tav Falco is known far and wide as the guiding light of Panther Burns, that proto-Americana, R&B-championing outfit that once featured the late Alex Chilton as a member. For A Tav Falco Christmas he’s joined by bassist Mike Watt, drummer/sleighbellsman Toby Dammit, guitarist Mario Monterosso, and pianist Francesco D’Agnolo, and we are advised that the ensemble hunkered down at Sam Phillips Recording Service studios in early July—which, if you know anything about Memphis in the summer, is the least likely time of year when one would find oneself “getting into” the Christmas spirit.

But maybe working through this eight-song set of holiday staples and a handful of semi-obscure R&B Christmas standards worked some seasonal magic, because the music is, in a word, cool. Sammy Cahn’s slow, strutting “Christmas Blues,” in particular, is for all you finger-snapping, whistling hepcats, while a twangy, countrypolitan “Jingle Bell Rock” is guaranteed to have even the most stalwart Scrooge—such as yours truly, who is on record as not being a huge fan of Christmas records—joining in, no guilty pleasuredom needed.

Throughout, Falco is in fine voice, his Southern near-drawl adopting a Presley-like classy croon on tracks like “Blue Christmas” and Lieber & Stoller’s “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” He’s nicely abetted by backing vocalists Lahna Deering and Tiffany Harmon, and the entire ensemble seems to revel in truly inhabiting the material. The LP, released for Record Store Day Black Friday 2017, is a limited edition (1000 copies) red vinyl gem, a perfect visual representation the holiday season. Christmas does come in July after all. —Fred Mills

 

SHE & HIM – A Very She & Him Christmas (4 out of 5 stars)
Merge
www.mergerecords.com

You’re forgiven for assuming A Very She & Him Christmas (originally issued in 2011) would be the hipster equivalent of The Carpenters Christmas Album, a holiday staple for every Williamsburg and Bushwick apartment. Despite the fact that the “She” in She & Him is Zooey Deschanel, hipster chick personified, the album is surprisingly irony free, just an even dozen Christmas standards updated slightly with Deschanel’s charmingly quirky lilt backed by the always impressive M. Ward. Even the ukulele on The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” sounds a bit alluring, rather than forced. The album is a holiday classic in waiting, even if you don’t own a single pair of skinny jeans and couldn’t grow a beard to save your life. —John B. Moore

 

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS – Chipmunks Christmas (5 out of 5 stars)
Capitol
www.capitolrecords.com

Al-viiiiiin!!!! Okay, give it up for the Chipmunks – you know you wanna. If we’re talking perennials here, this certainly ranks alongside A Charlie Brown Christmas. Don’t scoff. Sure, it’s nowhere near as “listenable” on a repeat-spin basis as Vince Guaraldi’s holiday classic, and in truth, hearing “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” only once or twice a year is plenty for me. Novelty-tilting though it certainly is, Chipmunks Christmas has a certain timeless quality that can turn anyone into a kid again, if only for 2 ½ minutes. And that’s something that not even those ghastly latterday Chipmunks movies (Chipwrecked, anyone?) can take away.

EMI and other labels have repackaged the Chipmunks frequently over the years – as a child, I owned the original 10-song vinyl LP – and this iteration boasts 18 squeaky, freaky tracks guaranteed to put an ironic smile on any hipster’s face while simultaneously making his or her significant other’s skin crawl. Such was the genius of Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian Sr., who originally launched his anthropomorphic rodents in 1958 and took ‘em to the top of the charts, to the Grammys, and to the bank: for better or for worse, the Chipmunks had a little something for everyone, and still do. — Fred Mills

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS – The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album  (1 out of 5 stars)
Sony/Legacy
www.legacyrecordings.com)

This is my personal gift to Donald J. Trump and his lovely hostage, er, wife, Melania. Consumers, beware: if you purchase this — based on its title and the roster of contributors, which includes bonafide “hard rockers” like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Robin Trower, Ted Nugent, Journey’s Neal Schon, Rush’s Alex Lifeson and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford — expecting the proverbial rock-with-your-Christmas-cock-out, flic-your-Santa-Bic arena-anthem fest, you’re gonna get a stockingful of coal. Only Halford’s blazing, rapid-fire “We Three Kings” and the Nuge’s stomping “Deck the Halls” even remotely qualify here as “hard rock” (in truth, the latter could actually qualify for a Ramones-styled Christmas collection… but I digress).

Everything else, and I say this as a fan of several of these fret wizards, might surface in an alternate dimension’s version of a Windham Hill holiday album. My hero Jeff Beck scores points for his blue note-laced “Amazing Grace,” but what’s up with those sappy chorale singers? Ditto Schon’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” with its New Agey keyboards and barely-there puffs of percussion; don’t stop believin’ in the dude’s skills, but if you run into him, feel free to ask him what the hell kinda mistletoe was he smokin’ when he cut the tune. And okay, to be fair, Satch – that’s Joe Satriani to all you Coldplay fans – and his somewhat fiery “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam” is indeed marginally “jamming” in traditional J.S. fashion, but “Surfing With The Saviour,” this is not; it’s just a wank-fest. Only aging bleached blondes with their sagging artificial tits and their bemulleted weightlifter trophy husbands — plus the stray Rush nerd who never got laid — need apply.

A classic example of a record label marketing an angle without actually determining what the “angle” might be, The Classic Christmas Hard Rock Album is part of a larger series that includes worthy titles from Frank Sinatra (reviewed above), Johnny Cash, Tony Bennett, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and even Kenny G. There is a companion released titled The Classic Christmas Pop Album boasting contributions from… drumroll please… Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block and Big Time Rush, along with semi-credible artists Phantom Planet, Glasvegas and Los Lonely Boys. Ironically, the so-called pop community’s take on “classic Christmas” is a zillion times more vital, and inspiring, than the hard rockers. O my once-hero, Jeff Back, how far you’ve fallen. —Uncle Blurt

 

Below, check out the colored wax from the Minus 5 and Tav Falco camps – THAT’s the kind of holiday cheer we like to spread around here! – Ed.