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.
This is one of the true musical tragedies of the year, a gorgeous album that’s forever left to slip out of the grasp of fans. Its even more crushing knowing how close to completion the band was when they broke up and halted the release of their fourth studio album. I’ve pressed records myself and I got a heavy-hearted feeling that these were well under way to being pressed when they pulled the plug, which is just a damn shame. Irresolvable differences aside – let the world weep with you. Jack Cooper and James Hoare were coming off of the delightful pang of Dusk and had written an appropriately lush follow-up in UP!. Despite the upward motion of the album’s title, its still snuggled neatly into the bittersweet bliss that’s endeared the pair to listeners over the years. Alas, its not to be – at least not in any physical form. Despite promos in hand for the majority of the press, and the inevitability that it would then spread to the general populace, this record remains tantalizingly out of reach as a physical object.
It was all spelled out there in the materials that accompanied the record last winter. Cooper’s quote in the release materials was “We started to question what people wanted from us and in the process, I think we briefly lost the idea of what the band was.” And that’s referencing an earlier version of the record that existed before they met label commitments and rewrote UP! in a second attempt sequestered away in the studio. There’s not a lot in there that sounds like a band that wants to continue, and just a few weeks later… they wouldn’t. Even under duress, though, it’s still a brilliant record that would have easily made my year-end list.
While I understand that artists are free to wield their works as they see fit, I’m a bit bummed I might never hold a copy of UP! in my hands. Perhaps someday reconciliation will come to pass. Maybe then the world will get to hear songs that I’ve had burning through my headphones for these past ten months. Then again, maybe some things are just too ephemeral for this world. Maybe UP! will continue to live as an internet ghost for all time, soothing the souls of those lucky enough to find their way to it.
Every once in a while, a true classic slips back out into the world without anyone kicking up to much of a fuss. While the songs on Against Perfection were incredible – clear heirs to both the noise of a shoegaze hangover from the years previous and to the swooning pop of Echo & The Bunnymen, the band’s timing always seemed to be off. That connection to shoegaze meant they were on the tail end of trends in a country often too enamored of what’s next. it’s good to have the debut back on the turntable, especially without the typical $100+ price tag. If, like me, you came to this one late due to US press covering about one British band a month, then now’s the perfect moment to make up for lost time. Kinda feel like it might be another 25 years before they press this one again.
Landing just a year after Ghost’s haunting psych-folk opus Lama Rabi Rabi, the record stands in stark contrast to that album’s dark restraint. It’s the beginning of a heavier sound for Ghost, played out as a standalone record hinged on molten solos and spectral noise. The band moves from AMT-styled barn burners to electric Miles freeforms with ease, proving that the assembled players were all hitting a seasoned prime during their time in Cosmic Invention. It’s a completely essential and utterly devastating record and it should find a place on your shelf as soon as possible.
There are a lot of gems burrowed into the Sub Pop catalog, but Halifax’s Eric’s Trip seem perennially overlooked. The band suffered from a lot of Sonic Youth-lite comparisons at the time their records were released, but that kind of easy pigeon-holing doesn’t do the band justice. The Band’s sophomore LP, Forever Again, was reissued this year and its full of gems that are sparse, fuzzy and full of Rick White’s noise-pop heart and Julie Doiron’s sweater-muffled charms.
Earth Records pick up a folk classic from the often-overlooked Dave Evans. While the British songwriter came to prominence on his status as a fingerpicked impresario, on his debut album he employs mournful vocals that strike a chord not unlike Bert Jansch or Roy Harper. Its in that same lonesome, man at the end of a long night weariness that he settles, but he stands apart from both of his contemporaries and more technical players like Renbourn or Basho with his hugely harmonic style of playing. Earth does the record well with their reissue that reimagines the cover art slightly and gives this LP another shot for the uninitiated.
This one’s hard to focus on just one release since the band’s entire catalog is full of solid albums that have been tantalizingly out of reach for years. Now, with Lawrence’s blessing the records have been repressed, and while the import prices are a bit high for us Statesiders, more than a few of these beg inclusion in your collection – in particular any fan of jangle pop would be remiss without the band’s masterpiece, Forever Breathes The Lonely Word. Though I’ll put in a nod to The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories as well, since both are pretty indispensable and now ready to get back on the turntable. Seek these out.
Black Editions has done the world a service reviving the out of print P.S.F. catalog for the majority that missed these records in any format, let alone on vinyl. When the project was announced it had a few initial records that got me excited, but the news that High Rise’s second album II would make its way back to vinyl with the original black and silver cover was the kicker on the whole deal. That record is a cornerstone of Japanese psych, and one of the hardest hitting heavy psych records from any scene. Fans of Acid Mother’s Temple, Comets On Fire and Boris would do well to take notice to this precursor of psych sludge.
This was another hard pick, because Soft Abuse also put together a great collection of early Skygreen Leopards material this year. It’s hard to say which is more essential, that LP or this collection of unreleased Ivytree recordings. I’m leaning towards The Ivytree because Skygreen was long running enough that there’s a wealth of recorded material to choose from. The Ivytree existed in a world of CD-rs and quietly slipped releases. There’s a very real possibility that most listeners don’t have access at all to The Ivytree and now, thanks to Recital, that’s been amended.
Normally I steer clear of Record Store Day. There’s rarely a release that can get me to push through the throngs on a day that’s intentions have been wildly abused by major label flooding. However, this ’74 record from Jansch is a necessary pickup. There was a reissue about 10 years back on Drag City that’s long out of print and the originals get scarcer every year. So, when Earth put this back on the shelves, I found a reason to battle the flippers and get out there. It’s an excellent second wind for Jansch, following the demise of Pentangle and produced by The Monkees’ Mike Nesmith. Bert’s got a lot of “essentials” littered through his catalog, and this ranks pretty high among them.
Right out of the gate, Les Disques Bongo Joe put out one of the year’s necessary reissues, this collection of Spanish post-punk and synth-pop. Heading up the standouts is an entry from the woefully named Zombies (no relationship to the UK band) whose RCA single “Extraños Juegos” is a delight that should populate pretty much any post-punk mixtape you’ve got going. There are shades of industrial (La Fura Dels Baus), squirming nerve-pop (Tres) and frantic synth pop (Todo Todo) that seems like someone in the Sega music mill might have been listening in when soundtracking the 16-bit generation (esp. Kid Chameleon). It shines a nice light on a corner of post-punk that hasn’t yet been scraped clean.
Speaking of necessary post-punk, the next great reissue from the genre came from Dais who rounded up every scrap of New Zealand’s Nocturnal Projections they could find. Brothers Peter and Graeme Jefferies formed the band in 1981, years before they’d lay down acerbic tracks as This Kind of Punishment. After they parted ways, Graeme would fulfill his destiny in The Cakekitchen and Peter would skew solo, but this was where they began in earnest. Dais has finally put the band’s three official releases – the Another Year 7” + a S/T 7” and S/T 12” – together onto a collection of complete studio recordings. The collection marks the first time that all three are back on LP since 1983, giving collectors of the rather pricey singles a handy primer on the band’s most lasting works.
Finders Keepers have never shied away from prog or concept albums before, but they’ve netted themselves something of a big fish in terms of psychedelic classics here. Popera Cosmic was a landmark album that helped shape the French psychedelic direction that would follow – from Serge Gainsbourg through on to Jean Rollin, Gong and Magma, this stands as the germ that began many musicians’ journeys. The record was instantly deleted at the time of its release and lay as a collector’s totem until now, so it seems high time this was available on a wider basis. Beyond fans of the French psychedelia this would influence, those who have been in thrall of The Holy Mountain, SF Sorrow or Head can feel free to dig in. Or, if you wish there existed a mash of Gong’s Flying Teapot, Les Mis on a heavy head of DMT and Haphash and the Coloured Coat, look no further.
Anthology took a deep dive into the entire output of Catherine Ribeiro and Les Alpes, but they truly do the world a service with the issue of their album Paix. By the time the band rolls into ’73’s Paix they’ve left the normal constraints of folk behind, working into 15 minute lengths and pushing the idea of song further from the digestible single than ever before. Paix is truly the band’s Zenith, tough its remarkable to see how they built towards this exploratory sound over the past two albums. As a box set the trio works to dissect how Ribeiro and Moullet worked off of one another and pushed each other to get outside of the mindset of French pop music entirely. If you have the time for the deep dive, then all three are worth a visit, but if you must cut to the core, Paix is where Ribeiro makes her mark for the ages. This is an excellent collection of an artist truly deserving of a retrospective.
Haven’t heard too much about In The Red doing the universe a solid by cobbling together a “definitive” version of Simply Saucer’s sole collection Cyborg’s Revisited, but if you’re any kind of fan of future punk with a sci-fi soul, then this one should be on your list. The gears of Cyborgs Revisited are wound with a space rock float that hooks in Hawkwind and Floyd allusions, playing to the heads urging to break free from the beige constraints of the Canadian status quo. Can’t recommend Simply Saucer enough, if this is an oversight on your shelf, rectify it now.
This one’s going to slip out long after most year-end lists populate, but its damn worthy of inclusion. That seems to be the scope of these SFA reissues though, as they don’t ever come with a lot of fanfare. This time around Music On Vinyl is putting the band’s breakthrough back on LP. Like most early aughts records, it didn’t really have a vinyl issue the first time around so this is likely the best bet for a lot of fans. The band’s major label debut brought in cameos from John Cale and Paul McCartney and is just a bout as big a psych-pop record as you’re likely to hear. I might put other SFA albums higher on my list of faves, but this is a limited LP too good to pass up and covers some solid ground in the band’s catalog of hits.
Anthology rounded up twenty tracks from releases highlighted in their book of the same name. The collection spans all the best Library hallmarks, from the gameshow funk of Keith Mansfield to the creamy soul of John Cameron, it’s as much a feast for the ears as the book is for the eyes and mind. Library music has always been a genre that requires a studious collector and, in that regard, it’s nice to have Hollander take some of the encyclopedic work off of our plates. For those looking to get into some excellent examples of the film archives, funk collectors and soul savants this is a prime collection of genre gems that aren’t likely on over-dug compilations previously existing. Highly recommended!