RSTB Best of 2018: Reissues, Etc.

A large part of the site is not only focusing on new releases, but also the great reissues that are unearthed during the course of a year. Below are my picks for the best editions dug up by the hardworking folks on the reissue circuit. Every year there are less options to work from and every year labels continue to surprise me with what they bring out. I’m also going to take a moment to give tribute to an album that could have been this year but due to unfortunate circumstances didn’t make it to fruition.

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RSTB Best of 2018

So, it seems that 2018 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a hell of a year by most standards, but musically its been damn entertaining. Perhaps its fair that there’s some bright spot in all the chaos. Not to diminish the chaos, but when the negativity is at an all-pervasive fever pitch, its feels good to have something to hold onto. I’ll choose to remember 2018 as a banner year for music and for the birth of my second daughter rather than the year that page refresh politics threatened to give me an ulcer any day. Below are my favorite albums of the year, taking care to highlight some that might otherwise get forgotten. They’re in (quasi) alphabetical order with no other particular weight on the list. Keep your eyes out for a few more year-end features this week before I reset for the new year. As always, thanks for sticking with RSTB for these 12-odd years or so.

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Traffik Island – “17”

One of the standout tracks on the Anti-Fade compilation, New Center of the Universe Vol. 3, this year was a track from Traffik Island. The band is largely the solo output of Zak Olsen from ORB, The Frowning Clouds and Hierophants. While he’s had a handful of singles scattered over the last few years, news today comes of a debut album on Flightless. The pairing makes sense, given ORB’s standing at the label, and first track “17” is a delightfully sunny swath of psych-pop that’s a far cry from ORB’s windpipe crushers. Instead the track, like previous outings from Traffik Island, is a sparkling jangler full of bright harmonies that bring to mind The Free Design, Euphoria, Sapphire Thinkers, or any other manner of the bittersweet brand of sunshine psych. The LP, Nature Strip is out next year and this track gives it a glow of promise. Definitely excited for this.

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Adam Hattaway and the Haunters

New Zealand’s Melted Ice Cream collective binds up a loose collection of jangle-prone, indie scrapers and post-punk purveyors with just the right mix of off-kilter sensibilities to keep the mind spinning. The label adds the solo debut from Christchurch’s Adam Hattaway (of Wurld Series) to the stable and it’s a delirious mishmash of crimped-tinfoil punk, fuzzgut indie and wistful power pop that laminates the Memphis school into a hot glued gauze. Hattaway might not be pulling down Big Star soul, but he’s getting runner up vibes a la The Hot Dogs on “Turn Around” and “Too Tired” and making it sound sweet. The dial twisting approach poaches well from his country’s past just as often though, finding a wobbly kinship with Chris Knox in various forms (his scattershot solo shamblin’ and Toy Love come to mind) not to mention indie lancers The 3Ds or Able Tasmans. Hell, maybe even a touch of Tall Dwarfs creeps in around he crimped edges.

There’s a sense that Hattaway coulda played it all straight – he’s got the hook chops to whip it ‘til smooth – but the record works because he refuses to do any such thing. Tape hiss creeps in to remind the listener that decorum isn’t at stake here. Whenever things threaten to get too close to the kernel of pop, Hattaway stomps down on the squelch to twist the feedback knife a little closer to chaos. As much as Australia has a knack for loose-knit indie wranglin’, their Eastern counterparts seem to push just a touch further towards the fringe, which is what makes them such a wellspring of great pop. Add Hattaway to that legacy. This collection is rough under the chin, but that’s what made some of the best Flying Nun platters so desirable in hindsight. All Dat Love is proving to be a late entry favorite around here, and I’m keeping an ear to where Hattaway’s headed in the future.



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The Other Years

2018 has been a pretty good year for folk of all varieties, but most especially the kind of lonesome, wooded, solace-laden folk that speaks to shirking the trappings of modernity to let the forest become your next of kin. Alongside great records from Nathan Salsburg, Sarah Louise, and Daniel Bachman you can add the quiet magic of the eponymous debut from The Other Years. The duo has been playing together for almost a decade, but this collection marks their first album proper, though you’d never catch a whiff of debut over these forty minutes. Anna Krippenstapel and Heather Summers (Freakwater, Joan Shelley) feel like they’ve been a well-kept tradition from the moment the record starts. Its raw and somehow refined because of its rawness. The pair can’t help but evoke Appalachian sisters or cousins playing for family, not posterity, as the sun goes down and the hearth burns bright. There’s something evergreen that aches in the bones of The Other Years – a vision of what could have been, rather than what has become of us.

While there’s, naturally, a blush of NPR think piece woven into a record this rooted in homespun wistfulness and coal country familial forms, The Other Years doesn’t feel like a curio or Cohen Brothers set piece. Rather, the sparse backporch renditions seem to flow from the women’s respective traditions in earnest, aching solemnity. Their songs keep up the oral tradition because the technological one seems too prickly to last. From the moment that Krippenstapel’s banjo starts to pick, there’s a sense that simplicity isn’t a four-letter word, and that maybe letting the grass consume the concrete isn’t such a bad idea. It’s a gorgeous reminder to notice the small moments and breathe the sweet air while it lasts.



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Gong Gong Gong – “Siren b/w Something’s Happening”

Beijing’s Gong Gong Gong tap into the tradition of bomb-bare psych blues. There’s not a drum in sight but the band is pounding that pulse as hard as Lightnin’ and John Lee. The pair herald the swell of a storm on lead single “Siren,” culminating in a feedback squall that’s not unhinged, but at the very least, unsettling. On the flip they let the floodwaters rip from the getgo, boiling their strings in a bath of fuzz and foam that’s thick as molten honey. Still the rhythm pulses and there’s a sense that Gong Gong Gong are either running from something sinister or running with it, bringing a deluge of doom to all who crowd their path.


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Superette – Tiger

In the wake of Flying Nun second-gen powerhouse Jean-Paul Sartre Experience’s dissolution around ‘93/’94 the band’s Dave Mulcahy and Greta Anderson picked up hometown pal Ben Howe to round out their new trio, Superette. The album, long overlooked stateside, is powered by moody hooks and a thick layer of grunge fuzz. Produced by Nick Roughan, who also worked on JPSE’s The Size of Food, the record finds itself locked into the sparser end of the ‘90s spectrum, shooting for Albini and Kramer vibes, though skewing a tad more traditional than either producer kicked out at the crack of the grunge era. Like the last wave of JPSE’s output the record embraces less of the idiosyncratic Kiwi-rock and more of their American and UK counterparts, but they hold out some bright spots that keep them from falling into obscurity.

Mulcahy and Anderson were in hunkered down in New York at the time their previous outfit called it quits and they no doubt absorbed all that NY’93 had to offer. There are shades of Sonic Youth and Pixies weaving through Tiger, and while they don’t necessarily make as big a footprint as either of those, naturally, they smash through with “Touch Me” and the clanging “I Got It Clean.” Flying Nun has gone the full measure on this one as well, including the band’s debut EP Rosepig alongside recordings from a planned and scrapped second album. I’d wager than most ‘90s nostalgists on this side of the world are unfamiliar with the trio’s melodic crunch, but with this definitive edition, its worth getting acquainted.



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Scott Hirsch

A couple of years back Scott Hirsch moved out of the studio pool, producing Hiss Golden Messenger records and holding down time in The Court and Spark to release a solo record. The record touched on plenty of the same ground he’d explored with those outfits – mellow, smoke and sunset country-folk that was nuanced and peppered with seasoned vets in the studio. On his follow-up, Hirsch has refined that sound, but added a low-slung groove to his tanned leather soul. Among those other plaudits, Hirsch was instrumental in mobilizing the one-off brilliance that was Golden Gunn and he brings the same reverence for the catalog of JJ Cale’s cocaine country to the fore here.

Lost Time Behind The Moon weaves between the roadhouse wrangle of Cale’s legacy and something of a transcendental peace, picking up the scattered pieces of Fred Neil alongside the respective ’72 vibes of Little Feat and Tim Buckley. Hirsch outstrips his previous effort time and again as each new song on his sophomore stint cues up – each one full of deeper humility, more vibrant hues, and rougher cut features. In a way the album sidles alongside the wave of Cosmic American that’s blossomed in 2018, though its nowhere near the heady sweat of most of the core chooglers operating in that sphere. While “No No” could easily slip in to bridge the divide between One Eleven Heavy and Howlin’ Rain, the scope of Hirsch’s album aims for more than just a nostalgic niche. Lost Time bristles and broods and in the end is a salve and solace to lost souls.

There’s something ephemeral that ties 1972 and 2018 – a tangle of turmoil, terror, desperation and delusion. The corruption wormhole of Watergate shot through to whatever ham-sliced timeline we’re currently operating in is palpable and by turns the same battered blue-collar brilliance on the stereo seems to hit home. Hirsch’s vision of country elegance and barbiturate boogie hangs heavy on he diaphragm, groovin’ and singin’ in the same breath. It’s both a damn shame and a blessing that this is coming out in December. The release schedule rush means a lot of people are going to gloss right over this, head stuck in the wet sand of year-end wraps ups. On the other hand, that makes this a brilliant gem for those still paying attention to the right channels. This one’s feels like it’s already got future collectors itchin’ to find a first press. If there’s one last record you add to the stack before the year tumbles down, this should be it.



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Tim Presley’s White Fence – “I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk”

Tim Presley’s been busy recently, but its actually been a few years since a solo White Fence track has trickled into these parts. Following a joint album with Ty Segall, a solo record under his given name and a Drinks LP with cohort Cate Le Bon, he return to the fertile ground of ’60s psych burble, this time advertised as Tim Preley’s White Fence. That addendum begs the question, what’s the difference now between Presley solo and Presley as White Fence? It seems to be a measure of cohesiveness, as I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk (both the album and the track) are steeped in the uneasy sway of his omnipresent Syd Barret / Kevin Ayers specter. The solo record lifted the lid on that for just a bit, but with White Fence back in play, Presley is back mining the acid-dipped end of the outsider pop spectrum for noxious gems. The seasick n’ static video for the track from Ashley Goodall gives the cut a proper hallucinatory quality. Full album arrives packed and peaking on Jan. 25th via his constant stomping grounds at Drag City.

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Palm Springs

After already laying down a scathing record of post-punk with her band Mod Con and giving some heft to the guitar chaos in Tropical Fuck Storm, Melbourne’s Erica Dunn cuts the volume and sweeps out the quiet corners of the home recorded hearth for this low-key EP. Her cassette Palm Springs & Friends is calm and crackling, evoking the kind of private issue and margin-walking folk that birthed albums from Elyse, Dave Bixby, Susan Christie, or Chuck and Mary Perrin. Dunn nails the wet wool sound of intimacy that made those obscurities into the sort of records that were sought out with blood, sweat and black lung as collectors rifled through basements and boot sales. The record takes a high contrast approach to the bulk of what I’ve heard from Dunn and proves that she’s got equal options for careers on both sides of the volume knob.

Not only is the record tender in its trappings, but lyrically this is a far cry from Mod Con’s fang-toothed tumult. Dunn is wistful and warm, opening the record to an autumnal ennui that’s surprising but infinitely listenable. While the faint fluff of tape hum might frame this collection perfectly, there’s also a feeling that Dunn could take this to a larger life with ease. Much like this year’s jump by Anna St. Louis to a full spectrum sound, its easy to see how the songs on & Friends could find purchase in lush production. Then again, if this is just meant to be a hand-crafted curio of folk, far be it from me to make any assumptions. Whatever her ambitions under the Palm Springs header, Dunn’s captured some sort of magic that’s hard to shake.





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