Throwbacks: Summer reissues of strange surf music, gay proto-punk, 'Robocop' and more

Throwback Thursday: Randall Roberts picks a batch of summer reissues

Songs of the summer are usually contemporary, of-the-moment concerns, the kind that will embed themselves into time-place memory banks for decades to come. But in an era in which Today’s Hits and unknown pleasures exist side by side, both equally accessible via your favorite platform, why the insistence on the present? The here-and-now hits can be heard everywhere. Better is to impress the picnic or party with some crate digging.

Below, a bunch of notable throwbacks for a Thursday: vintage music, some of it  incredibly strange, others before its time, still others newly monetized for contemporary consumption and all just revived for the summer.

Michael Sena, “Bali High” Original Soundtrack Recording (Anthology Recordings). Recorded to accompany a 1981 surfing film that documented the wild waves of Bali, the Hawaiian musician Michael Sena composed a few dozen songs in three months to take the place of the unlicensed Bob Marley, Police and Santana songs that scored the movie when it was released.

“Ride” is mostly a keyboard instrumental -- except when Sena occasionally interrupts to croon “the water ... the water ...”  or scat sing. The result is summer fun circa 1984: cheap-sounding synths and drum machines work overtime in instrumentals, moving through odd time signatures, drum solos channeled through weird effects boxes and the occasional surf riff. Available now. 

Led Zeppelin, “Presence,” “In Through the Out Door” and “Coda” deluxe editions. (Swan Song/Atlantic). The final three releases in an extensive reissue campaign devoted to the collected albums of Led Zeppelin will arrive mid-summer. Like the earlier releases, these were remastered by guitarist and producer Jimmy Page, feature previously unreleased outtakes selected by him and will be available in a few different editions. Out July 31.

Smokey, “How Far Will You Go?: The S&M Recordings, 1973-81” (Chapter Music). A defiantly gay Los Angeles band making proto punk and oddball disco through much of the 1970s, Smokey gunned for mainstream success while remaining totally unwilling to hide their truth. Songs like “Leather,” “Miss Ray” and “Hot Hard & Ready,” the latter of which celebrates “a ton of steel between my legs,” made the message pretty obvious, but that's not the only thing they loved. “Topanga” is a weird ode to the canyon featuring frantically sped up piano and a barroom rhythm. Out now.

Karin Krog, “Don’t Just Sing: A Karin Krog Anthology” (Light in the Attic). Those looking to be blindsided by the past should hear Norwegian singer Krog’s version of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” Backed by a small jazz outfit, the singer moves through the song with witty phrasing and a keen sense of rhythm, her matter-of-fact recounting sung perfectly in tune. This collection of Krog’s work from the 1960s to the ‘90s, selected with the help of the artist herself, offers an introduction to a quirky stylist who, while successful in her own country, is virtually unknown in America. Out June 30.

The Muffs, “The Muffs,” (Omnivore Recordings). The 16 tracks on the Muffs eponymous debut confirm the quartet as one the great Los Angeles scream-along punk bands of the 1990s. The group, headed by vocalist and lead guitarist Kim Shattuck, recently reunited, and “The Muffs” shows why people still care. This Omnivore reissue adds a dozen bonus tracks, including demos, a radio remix of “Lucky Guy” and a cassette-only version “Everywhere I Go.” Out Aug. 14.

Luzmila Carpio, “Yuyay Jap’ina Tapes” (Squirrel Thing). This curious work of indigenous Andean music by Bolivian singer Carpio was originally issued in her home country on cassette, and features Quechua-language songs that espouse education and social justice for her fellow citizens. (At least according to the label notes). Long a proponent of adult literacy, women’s rights and racial harmony, the artist is a respected advocate in Bolivia.

Which is great and everything, but even minus the positive messages this work is beguiling. Crafted on stringed acoustic instruments that sound like autoharps and featuring Carpio on vocals, the songs flow with an exquisite energy. At key intervals, the singer moves into a high-pitched wail that quivers with bird-like texture. A version of this release is already available on some streaming services; this Squirrel Thing reissue of “Yuyay Jap’ina Tapes” comes out on August 21. 

Vince Guaraldi, “Peanuts Greatest Hits,” (Fantasy Records). Just in time for the forthcoming animated Peanuts film arrives a reminder of the ways in which music served to expand the emotional depth of Charles Schulz’s classic strip. This quickie survey offers a dozen classic glimpses at the magic of jazz pianist Guaraldi and his trio. Included are “Linus and Lucy,” “Oh Good Grief,” “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” and others. Available July 31, with a vinyl version arriving in September.

Basil Poledouris, “Robocop” original score (Nicolas Winding Refn Presents). The Euro-noir director Nicolas Winding Refn has long been a preacher for strange and/or important soundtracks, and has been putting his energy behind resurrecting some of his essentials. After issuing LP versions of the scores to “Oldboy” and “It Follows,” the director’s reissue mission continues with the score to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 film “Robocop.” Mixing synth tones with orchestral drama, the late film composer Poledouris captured the movie's grim futurism. Remastered for vinyl at Warner Studios, “Robocop” will arrive as a double-LP on silver vinyl. Out July 17. 

Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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