Take one 180-gram platter and call your doctor in the morning…
BY FRED MILLS
You say you want a revolution? John and Paul may have intoned that line nearly a half century ago, but when we are talking vinyl, it’s happening right here. Wax is back, and that’s a fact, jack.
In fact, you’ve already thrilled to BLURT blogger Tim Hinely’s recurring roundup of indie 45s, “Singles Scene” (go here for his latest column). You’ve salivated over contributing editor A.D. Amorosi’s “Plastic Fantastic” series on high-profile vinyl reissues (go here). And since we are receiving 12-inch albums more and more frequently as promos—many of them limited editions or featuring unique qualities such as colored vinyl—it seems appropriate to additionally spotlight some of the more deserving releases. Most of these you won’t find at Amazon.com and certainly not at big box retailers. You’ll have to track ‘em down at an independent record store—so support your local indie, goddammit! Happy hunting, punters… and bands, you can find the BLURT editorial address (where to send your promo platters for review consideration, natch) on this website’s masthead. Just click the “contact” button at the top of the page.
VELVET UNDERGROUND – Velvet Underground (Sundazed)
A sticker on the outer shrink wrap of this reissue loudly trumpets, “A Desert Island Disc!” Which may be a slight exaggeration; ask most Velvet Underground acolytes and they’re more likely to award that distinction to The Velvet Underground and Nico or White Light/White Heat, particularly in light of the fact that Velvet Underground, originally issued in 1970 as part of the MGM label’s “Golden Archive Series” of compilations of several of its key artists (MGM oversaw Verve, which released those first two VU LPs). Too, you’d be forgiven for not even being aware of the existence of Velvet Underground unless you are a serious Velvets collector, for while it probably sold well enough in its time (enjoying multiple releases, in fact) and can be spotted on a regular basis at record fairs and eBay listings, it rarely crops up in discussions about the band or in back catalog overviews since it’s a highly selective and limited-in-scope collection that neither adds to the group’s canon nor touches upon fully half of the ensemble’s original output.
All that aside, as evidenced by this beautiful-sounding 180-gram platter – it’s also on CD, but the analog sonics are so warm you’d be foolish not to spring for the vinyl—the early Velvets were first and foremost a song-oriented rock band. It boasts an intriguing tracklist that sequences the beautifully poppy “Candy Says” next to the serene, dreamy “Sunday Morning”; the starkly droning “Heroin” beside archetypal VU choogler “Beginning to See the Light”; and the violently throbbing “White Light White Heat” just before the luminous, ethereal “Jesus.” And with these contrasting musical notions highlighting the group’s early oeuvre, not to mention the original LP’s compilers making selections that are nothing if not curious, focusing on the oddly gospellish likes of “I’m Set Free” and throwaway tune “Afterhours” at the expense of several far better known tunes, Velvet Underground emerges less as a catalog-exploiting curio than it might have once been deemed and, instead, a genuine alternate look at the group.
As liner notesman David Fricke astutely observes, it “now plays like a set of greatest hits by a band that made them ahead of schedule, before the rest of the world was ready.”
THE BREMEN RIOT – PM Magazine (self-released)
It’s no secret that here at BLURT we love Austin, and a slew of the Lone Star city’s bands definitely pass the smell test for us as well. Here’s another good ‘un: The Bremen Riot, which is a summit between Grand Champeen’s Channing Lewis (guitar/vocals), Alex Livingstone (bass/vocals), Michael Crow (guitar/vocals) and Ned Stewart (drums) and Minneapolis ex-pat Mike Nicolai, who’s been making the nature scene in Austin since the mid ‘90s, issuing a slew of records under his own name. With Nicolai’s assured, Ray Davies-like vocals at the fore, the band chugs lustily across a set of infectious power pop and high-energy garage/punk; images of vintage Rockpile and The Jam surface alongside the obvious Kinks connection, but the sound is still defiantly original.
Standout tracks include the galloping “Keep Your Head,” with its chorus echoes of the Beatles’ “She Loves You”; the Ramones-like “Ruthless” (wait for the raveup guitar solo, however); and the darkly brooding “How’s Your Lunch?” which is guaranteed to send sonic shivers down your spine. Pressed on pristine 180-gram vinyl, natch. Ladies and gents, meet The Bremen Riot, and book the next flight to Austin, pronto.
THE CYRILLIC TYPEWRITER – Custodian (Jaz)
Knowing that The Cyrillic Typewriter is a nom du composer of Jason Zumpano, who has pitched his pop tent previously with Destroyer, Sparrow, Loscil and of course Zumpano, doesn’t fully prepare you for this “score for an unreleased horror film” (as the press sheet calls Custodian). Ornate yet moody, synth heavy but dotted with strings, horns and percussion, it does indeed convey cinematic unease a la some of John Carpenter’s soundtracks or Edgar Froese’s non-Tangerine Dream excursions into film scores. Recurring sonic motifs abound; cursory track titles act as de facto cues, e.g. “Doorway,” “Faces,” “Hands,” etc. There’s also “Lament” parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. Overall, Zumpano achieves his stated goal to suggest “a Heart Of Darkness narrative of doomed exploration and dreaded discovery.”
Pressed on 180-gram vinyl and including a 10” x 10” felt weave print tucked inside the sleeve, Custodian comes in a limited edition of 160, so better act fast.
NATIONAL WAKE – Walk In Africa 1979-81 (Light In The Attic)
Once again, the astute archivists at Light In The Attic pluck another artist from undeserved obscurity—although sadly, unlike some of the label’s projects (Rodriguez comes to mind), the likelihood of a physical revival are slim as two of the musicians have passed away. National Wake formed in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising of 1976, South African students additionally inspired by the international punk movement, and a bi-racial combo to boot, which in the apartheid era wasn’t exactly given the blessings of the government. Indeed, the members of National Wake, as part of a Johannesburg commune, regularly attracted the scrutiny of the police, oftentimes even having their concerts cancelled. This only served to galvanize them further and provide songwriting fodder.
As a result they penned meaty anthems such as the Clash-like “International News,” the reggae-drenched title track, blazing garage-rocker “Mercenaries” and the lilting Caribbean pop of “Corner House Stone,” all politically charged and purposeful. Their lone album National Wake saw release in 1981 and even got issued in the UK where deejay John Peel gave his blessings, but ultimately the band couldn’t sustain itself in the face of the constant myriad pressures.
Light In The Attic has compiled all the key recordings here, several of them previously unreleased, as a double LP (180-gram vinyl) in a tip-on deluxe gatefold sleeve, plus a handsome, photo-packed 20-page booklet detailing the entire story. Essential listening for any serious student of punk—or the history of South Africa and apartheid.
QUTTINIRPAAQ – Let’s Hang Out (Rural Isolation Project)
No, not an artifact from the Canadian national park of the same name, but rather an obscure group of Austin-based noiseniks (hey, we dig Austin!) who channel the spirits of the Butthole Surfers, Chrome and Einstürzende Neubauten. Call it industrial space-skronk, with cortex-bruising “tunes” like the distorted, droning, sludgy “Diary of a Pig Keeper’s Wife,” the whirling, pleasurably repetitive “Stork” and pounding psychedelic jam “Vamos A Martar Santana.” (Yes, this is a band that sketches out its song titles in between bong hits, as evidenced by the preceding along with “Cop Boner,” “Man Without a Body” and “A Secret History of Belgian Dog Owners.”) Feedback, distortion, heavily phased electronics and random stereo panning, plus gargantuan drumming and barely-audible vocals are the order of the day here, which invariably means Quttinirpaaq would be more of a live “experience” to behold than chilling out back at the crib with the stereo cranked to 9 ½. But don’t let that dissuade you.
Let’s Hang Out is the group’s second release in less than a year; No Visitors appeared back in June. And while there’s not a whole lot of info out there on Quttinirpaaq (much less instructions on how to pronounce the name), either. Still, with a keen ear for the musically transgressive and an even keener eye for the record collector – the limited-to-300-copies LP is pressed on clear vinyl with blood-red splatters throughout – the band has got yours truly’s vote for a must-own left-field delight.
CONNECTIONS – Body Language (Anyway)
Columbus, OH, combo straddling the post-punk and power pop camps with effortless aplomb, Connections manages to be edgy and serene at the same time. That’s no mean feat; most bands excel at one or the other, and come off too studied or stiff when they stray too far afield from their chosen aesthetic. Not this band, which includes musicians from Times New Viking, 84 Nash and El Jesus de Magico. From rough ‘n’ ready rocking opener “Aimless” and gnarly, ‘mats-styled punk romp “Girl’s Night Out” to clanging, anthemic “Summer Creeps” (which very nearly out-Pollards neighbors Guided By Voices) and glorious closing number “Florida, Vegas, Tahoe,” which sounds like a long-lost outtake from Who Sell Out, Connections manage to make the, er, connections between classic styles and artists and their own shared experiences, making for an utterly enjoyable and believable roller coaster ride.
And guess what? When you get off the ride, you get gifted with a beautiful bright red vinyl LP. Sweet!
LIVING SERIOUS – I Can Fight This Feeling 12” EP (Omad)
Though their appearance – choppy cuts, unkempt shave jobs, mis-matched attire – suggests an overly studious attempt at coming across as unkempt, the four gents of Living Serious belie any notions of NYC hipsterdom by sheer force of their musicality. With songwriter par excellence John DeNicola handling production, Living Serious serves up a 7-pak of youth and young manhood – most notably the impossibly catchy title track, which bounces like vintage XTC as filtered through the guitar fever dreams of Johnny Marr. The group’s poppy take on post-punk is pristine: check the serene, jangly throb of “Put Yourself Out There,” or adrenaline rush romp of “The One You Think It Is,” and then dare yourself not to pogo across the living room as the record spins.
Yes, spins. In another nice twist, the 12” platter is pressed at 45rpm rather than 33, which isn’t particularly necessary but certainly adds to whatever fidelity one might be seeking. (For those not in the know, the sonics at 45 are greater than at 33.) Housed in a tip-on sleeve, it’s limited to 100 copies initially. Just another feather in these anti-hipster hipsters’ collective hat-brim, eh?
WARPAINT – Warpaint (Rough Trade)
The L.A. dreampop band is getting solid notices across the board for its second full-length. Our own Dr. Toland called Warpaint “an atmospheric take on the group’s patented groove rock… Arrangements seemingly arrive on a breeze, rather than through a combination of instruments, while Emily Kokal’s voice floats above, between and through the ripples like a curious ghost. Electronic sounds dominate, despite the two-guitars/bass/drums format.” Elsewhere, in Atlanta zine Stomp & Stammer yours truly enthused, “The band’s new Flood-produced/Nigel Godrich-mixed sophomore platter sustaining and extending its dreamlike grip upon the senses like precious few I’ve encountered of late. Warpaint manages to be simultaneously wraithlike and vividly present in the most sensual way. Kinda like a dream, in fact, the type that stays with you and leaves you feeling haunted for hours, maybe days, on end.”
Equally noteworthy, if wax is your thing – and since you’re reading this feature, it clearly must be – then definitely spring for the limited edition 2LP of Warpaint. It comes pressed on brilliant blood-red vinyl, the group’s triangle logo etched on side 4. Amen.
TURCHI – My Time Ain’t Now 10” EP (Devil Down)
Hailed as the “kings of kudzu boogie” in their hometown of Asheville, NC, Turchi may not yet be musical royalty, but as far as the second part of that musical equation goes, the inherent Southern sonic serendipity evinced throughout this 5-song 10”-er is profound indeed. Minimalist odes (the Lou Reed-esque “Any Other Way”) bump up against straight-up north Mississippi jukejoint blooze (“My Time Ain’t Now”) and spooky, ghostly trance grooves (a cover of Josh Ritter’s great “Mind’s Eye,” which features some killer slide-git licks). Dig it, bruthas and sistahs of the cotton.
The band trundled down the mountains and over to Memphis to record this vinyl platter at Ardent Studios, but nothing was lost in the translation. As with another regional fave of yours truly (Pierce Edens & The Dirty Work, reviewed here), the roots wrangling here makes for some fine inspiration, be it meditation or simply hard drinking. It’s up to you. Consumer note: Initial copies of the 10” record come on sweet clear vinyl!
ROXY SWAIN – Restless Hearts (Spade Kitty)
Fronted by the big-throated, touch-o-country-but-pop-tilting namesake singer who brings to mind, at various points Neko Case, Jenny Lewis and Bettie Serveert’s Carol Van Dyk, Chicago’s Roxy Swain (the band) hit the musical sweet spot so many times on its sophomore platter that you’d swear Roxy Swain (the aforementioned frontwoman) has been peeking in your window, staring at your record shelves, looking for clues as to how she might seduce you. That she does, on such gems as the yearning, tremolo-guitar-and-synth-laced “Impossible Wait,” the insistently twangy/jangly “Tonight” (which, we are advised, is a love letter to Big Star; the tune holds its own), and the deep blue, spookysexycool “Salt and Smoke,” a vocal tour de force for Swain that additionally allows her band to flex its instro muscles as if they were a Stax or Muscle Shoals house band backing up a visiting soul superstar.
You want spookysexycool? Check the orange wax for this LP, what with its sneaky white (as in, “smoky”… make that, “smokysexycool”) swirls pressed within. It’s vinyl collector catnip.