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Nights Off: Hand-Stamped Electronic Singles, Reissues, Real Bands, and Guitar Soli

What constitutes a band these days? A half-assed songwriter and some pick-up players hustled off the Montrose L stop on a random Tuesday night? Looking for new music can be overwhelming and humiliating. Here's a guide to records you should actually buy.

The secret to the runaway success of NYC’s best new record label, L.I.E.S., is eclecticism. For the last two years Ron Morelli has been releasing a barrage of hand-stamped 12” electronic singles that run the gamut from the minimal house sophistication of Marcos Cabral, to the industrial-tinged dark techno of Vapauteen. Whatever the project, it’s best to grab whatever you can find. Each release is a unique world unto itself rather than yet another exercise of a label exploring a micro-sound to death. The joy of discovery lies in not knowing what to expect, and their new batch is no disappointment. Following a double 12” of minimal, dark electronics by Jahiliyya Fields is Torn Hawk’s debut recording, a vibrant and lush exploration of hypnotic electronic new wave. The project of visual artist Luke Wyatt, Torn Hawk takes the hedonistic 80s late-night cable TV aesthetic to dizzying heights. Comparable only to Mark McGuire and Spencer Clarke’s Inner Tube in its Technicolor assimilation of audio nostalgia, Torn Hawk envelopes a stylistic hyper-world. And is that an honest-to-god guitar on this dance-floor 12”? It’s a brilliantly entertaining and listenable exchange that refuses to drift too far from the turntable. 

It’s a golden age for reissues and Light in the Attic have been at it for a minute. Hot off the heels of some essential Michael Chapman reissues, the label drops a heavy double LP comp of Stax/Volt soulstress Wendy Rene’s 45s. Rene is best known now for her track “After Laughter Comes Tears,” which was made famous to younger generations when it was sampled by The Wu-Tang Clan. That’s all well and good, but this collection’s genius is in its showcase of Rene’s strength as a ballad singer. She can rip your heart out and cast the landscape a deep cobalt blue in the span of a verse and a chorus. With all of the tracks recorded between 1964 and 1965, the collection retains a fantastic consistency and includes a few unreleased gems sprinkled throughout, including the phenomenal “Please Don’t Leave Me” by the Drapels (with Rene on backing vox), which is an album highlight and centerpiece for a late-night soul confession. This package features a sharp gatefold of the original 45s, and the music speaks loud and clear. Beauty, thy name is Wendy Rene.

What constitutes a band in these modern times? A half-assed songwriter and some pick-up players hustled off the Montrose L stop on a random Tuesday night? It used to mean a group of musicians who had a unique chemistry from years of practice and woodshedding. Unfortunately, America has been slacking hard in that department as of late, but fortunately, the Sublime Frequencies are experts in the trafficking of foreign music. Last year they released the debut full-length by contemporary Turkish psych trio Hayvanlar Alemi, a melodic guitar-led blast of complexity and beauty that recalled the Sun City Girls themselves in their Torch of the Mystics frenzy. Yes, this is a real band and one gets the feeling the recordings are only half the story. But for now, Alan Bishop and co. give us another gift from the band, this time in economic 7” format. The A-side, “Yekermo Sew,” is a jukebox-worthy ripper with a tightly tangled guitar and rhythmic jangle. The flip side is a cocktail-infused improvisation that could soundtrack some Arabian detective’s slide into oblivion after having his drink laced. Both will treat you quite nicely in the sweltering summer nights.

Guitar soli is a particularly overwrought stylistic genre that has seen its glut of redundancies and cliché’s in recent years. The worst—and by that I mean dullest—examples of which can be found on the Eight Trails, One Path compilation LP released by Three Lobed, in which several well known players share their most bearable leftovers and some young guns try to impress. When John Fahey said he hated something, he usually meant it as a compliment. When he really wanted to dismiss it, he’d say it was “uninteresting.” Uninteresting is an apt description for the majority of these contributions. Steve Gunn, William Tyler, and Six Organs of Admittance all put in well-played, melodic pieces resulting in nothing too exciting. Lee Ranaldo phones it in to such an extent that he sounds bored even playing it. The Bishop tracks are fine, although not especially memorable. The over-packaging (like a matchbook) and terrible liner notes, which offer no insight into the artists or their contributions, do nothing to help save this ship of mediocrity. What do you know? It’s a record store day comp! No wonder it’s so forgettable. All of these gentlemen’s resumes would be stronger without this shelf filler. Records last forever, they should count.