New music is all well and good, but there’s room in our hearts for the old stuff too.
Never more so than in 2008, a year in which even self-styled futurists seemed to get teary eyed with nostalgia. In addition to the ‘92 hardcore homages, the ever-growing series of Don’t Look Back gigs and a worrying trend for has-beens to reform for festival headline spots, a number of musically-passionate independent labels have re-packaged and re-released classic albums and previously unheard tracks by artists truly deserving of a second chance to have their music heard, and enjoyed, by a larger audience.
The best of these sounded as vital – and prescient – now as when they were first made. From the mesmerizing ambient soundcapes of Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works to the exuberant ‘anything goes’ funk compiled by labels like Soundway and Analog Africa, via the wired experimentalism of Delia Derbyshire’s Radiophonic Workshop and the pop genius of ‘outsider’ disco auteur Arthur Russell and troubled Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, these are our 20 best re-issues of 2008.
IN THE KINGDOM OF KITSCH… / GRINDSTONE
There’s also a black metal Shining, but this one is the child of Jorgen Munkeby, who rolls with the Horntevth brothers in Jaga (formally Jaga Jazzist). Jaga’s What We Must (2005) saw that collective pushing darker, Slint-ier pursuits, but Shining took that ball and ran with it in about a hundred different directions with these two albums on Rune Grammofon, previously unavailable on vinyl. Freak-jazz madness that sounds more like Disco Volante than Bitches Brew, and comes hugely recommended.
19: ORCHESTRE POLY-RHYTHMO DE COTONOU
THE VODOUN EFFECT
Our ‘08 highlight from the excellent Analog Africa, we first heard this lot on the label’s African Scream Contest compilation, and The Vodoun Effect proved a no less joyous exploration of Benin funk. The production is almost shockingly good, considering that the originals were just done on a Nagra (Swiss-made reel-to-reel recorder) in someone’s house with a couple of microphones and an engineer sent from the national radio station, and the deluxe inlay – full of obscure record sleeves from the period – appealed to our inner (well, outer) record geeks like no other.
HART GORE / MEAN MAN’S DREAM
(SOUTHERN LORD / FSS)
Originally released by Fundamental/Esksakt, we’d like to say we were already up on Gore and welcomed these re-issues. We weren’t. But we were promptly blown away by the Netherlands trio’s brand of hard, pounding noise that precursors post-eighties heaviness touchstones like Slint, Pan Sonic and SunnO))) and provides the perfect accompaniment to the previously untouchable power electronics of eighties Swans.
17: PHILIP GLASS
GLASS BOX: A NONESUCH RETROSPECTIVE
You’ve got to love Philip Glass. Though his career is not without its blips and commercial cop-outs (remember his score for The Truman Show?), it’s also a career characterized by a vivid grasp of colour and style, a thirst for border-crashing collaboration, and an understanding of the shared creative terrain between pop, experimental and modern classical music. Like his contemporaries Steve Reich and Terry Riley, Glass imbues his minimalism with a range and romanticism that’s awfully addictive.
The Glass Box is a whopping 10-CD set, and it zones in on the most important works in Glass’s oeuvre – from the early masterpiece Music in Contrary Motion, to his ravishing and (believe it or not) not at all patience-testing opera, Einstein on The Beach; his score for Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula movie is an unexpected highlight also. Really, though, it’s all about the Kronos Quartet’s performances of Glass’s aching string quartets, and the terrific studio album Glassworks – which includes ‘Floe’, sampled to wonderful effect by Ricardo Villalbos on the For Disco 12″ track ’485U’.
16: TUBEWAY ARMY
Gary Numan famously remarked that he had added electronics to the first Tubeway Army record as an afterthought when he had found a synthesizer lying around in the recording studio. On some of Replicas‘ tracks, synthesizers still seem to be supplements adding a sleazy veneer to a distortion pedal-dominated new wave sound. But the best, and most unique, tracks are those on which the electronics dominate.
On his melancholic masterpiece, ‘Down In The Park’, sweeping dry-ice synthesizers magisterially paint a neon lit near future stalked by pitiless human-machine hybrids. The line, “you can watch the humans trying to run” is perhaps the most succinct expression of Numan’s android identification, a casually provocative indication of his remoteness from human fellow feeling. But, despite this pose as a cold observer of atrocity, Numan’s android is not emotionless so much as disaffected, and even in its number one hit, ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, Replicas is saturated by a mood of terrible sadness.
15: DERRICK MAY
One of the best ways to get to what is distinctive about Derrick May’s music is to contrast it with the work of his friend and collaborator in the first wave of Detroit Techno, Juan Atkins, whose Model 500 were also compiled this year on R&S’s Classics.
Whereas Model 500 are a kind of technological upgrade of English-originating synth-pop, May’s tunes – serene, stately – seem to come from another lineage altogether: instead of Numan or John Foxx, they recall minimalist experimentalists like Steve Reich or ultra smooth Herbie Hancock-style electronic jazz. May himself described his sound as “23rd century ballroom music”, and even though Innovator’s tracks are highly effective at moving a crowd, listened to at home they take on a strangely solitary quality: as if this were a computer simulation of those future ballrooms, magnificent, opulent, magisterial, but as yet uninhabited.
14: MOUNT VERNON ARTS LAB
THE SÉANCE AT HOBS LANE
Ghost Box wasn’t the first musical collective to draw inspiration from creaky British sci-fi, the BBC Radiophonic Orchestra, and the curious relationships that exist between people and place, past and present, reality and mythology: Mount Vernon Arts Lab, a musical project conceived by Drew Mulholland, plucks its imagery and psychic energy from similar oddballs and curveballs of our post-war cultural heritage, and feeds them into a sound-world where fact and fiction, old and new, coincide. MVA’s second album, Séance At Hobs Lane, first released in 2001 on the Via Satellite label, was given a welcome reissue by Ghost Box earlier this year. Seeing Séance at Hobs Lane adorned in a House-designed Ghost Box sleeve feels so natural it’s almost – ha – uncanny. Indeed, this isn’t so much a reissue as a homecoming.
13: BASIC CHANNEL
With modern-day labels like Modern Love, Mojuba, Meanwhile, Punch Drunk and Hessle Audio building on the classic dub-techno sound, not to mention elder statesmen GAS and Pole receiving the deluxe reissue treatment, it was fitting that Basic Channel re-issued their BCD-2 to remind us of their originating role. Collecting some of their best and best-loved works – including ‘Phylyps Track’ and ‘Octagon’, BCD-2 captures a moment when techno turned in on itself and modern music was changed forever.
1 / 2 / 3
On this groundbreaking trilogy of albums from turn-of-the-millennium Berlin, Stefan Betke, a.k.a Pole, dispensed with drums in favour of the rhythmic pulses and crackles of a broken Waldorf 4-pole analogue filter, influencing a host of minimal techno, glitch, electronica and dubstep producers along the way. With their primary-colour sleeves and reduced sonic palette, it’s definitely a case of less-is-more. Less ‘clubby’ than dubstep, but no less vital: a welcome reissue.
11: V/A / SOUL JAZZ
AN ENGLAND STORY
Props also go to their excellent Rise of Jamaican Dancehall compilation, but our Soul Jazz pick of the year had to be this, a condensed, properly-released version of The Heatwave’s Blogariddims mix that traced the lineage of UK MCing from the early-mid 80s bliss of Papa Levi and Tippa Irie, through early 90s hip-hop from groups like London Posse, including Blak Twang’s stunning ‘Red Letters’, into modern yard-grime classics like Riko’s vocal of Wiley’s ‘Ice Rink’ and Doctor and Daviche’s ‘Gotta Man’.