10: ROBERT WYATT
DRURY LANE THROUGH CUCKOOLAND
Having made several albums of forward-thinking prog-cum-psychedelia with Soft Machine, Wyatt left the band in 1971 having already released his first solo album, End of an Ear. In 1973, inebriated at a party, he fell from a third floor window; paralysed from the waist down, he has been confined to a wheechair ever since.
His first landmark solo record was Rock Bottom (1974), and it’s with this that the Domino re-issue programme begins. A disarmingly beautiful song-cycle recorded at a time of great personal upheaval and hardship, Rock Bottom is a very English kind of soul record on which Wyatt was assisted by Mike Oldfied, Henry Cow’s Fred Frith and the poet Ivor Cutler – for our money it’s one of the best albums ever made, no joke. Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (1975) is an exquisite work of mature pastoral psychedelia, remarkable for its odd time signatures and beautiful ensemble playing; Brian Eno contributes guitar, synthesizer and “direct-inject anti-jazz raygun”.
Then came Nothing Can Stop Us (1981), a collection of politically resonant cover versions – including a heart-stopping rendition of Chic’s ‘I’m Free’, and ‘Auraco’, derived from Chilean protests at the arrival of Pinochet. Wyatt’s first “proper” LP in a decade was Old Rottenhat (1985); the follow-up, Dondestan (1991), is considered his best work since Rock Bottom, and was “remixed and reappraised” in 1998 for Dondestan Revisited. Shleep (1997) is Wyatt’s sunniest, most musically vivid record to date, and features a star-studded cast of collaborators, including Eno, Evan Parker, Phil Manzanera and Paul Weller. It was followed by another career highlight, Cuckooland (2003), which introduced him to a whole new generation of admirers and sowed the seeds for his most recent artist album, Comicopera (2008).
In making all these albums – not to mention the rare as hen’s teeth EPs – readily available again, Domino are giving all of us the opportunity to better acquaint ourselves with one of Britain’s greatest ever recording artists. Do yourself a favour and take that opportunity.
09: BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP
(THE GREY AREA)
Although many of the pieces that make up the Radiophonic Retrospective work perfectly well as music – Delia Derbyshire’s contributions in particular establish her as a masterly composer of eerie and sombre electronica – it’s important to remember that these weren’t supposed to be listened to in their own right, but as embedded, functional sound.
The members of the Workshop were public servants as much as they were artists and musicians (to the extent that Derbyshire was never credited for the brilliant original Dr Who theme), and at a time when the BBC has lost its way, the example of the Radiophonic Workshop gives the lie to the notion that public funding necessarily leads to drabness.
BRIGHTEN THE CORNERS: NICENE CREEDENCE EDITION
An unfairly neglected younger brother to Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Pavement’s penultimate album Brighten the Corners may have featured the band in the midst of their demise, but if it wasn’t their best full-length then it was certainly their last great one. Look, you’re reading about music on the internet. Me telling you Pavement are good is about as redundant as telling you to check out some album called Loveless or to think about starting a blog.
07: THE PRODIGY
EXPERIENCE EXPANDED: B-SIDES AND REMIXES
Originally conceived as some kind of ill-advised concept album, The Prodigy’s Experience instead motion captures rave in the midst of its exhilarating, anti-climatic plateau. Experience has the feel of an expert DJ set, with moments of rest and respite amidst the inhumanly hectic forward motion. What we hear rushing past at hyperspeed is the gene (or genre) pool of so much of the hardcore continuum to come – a mobile library of embryonic forms, still seething with mutagenic potential.
The title of their second LP – Music For The Jilted Generation – and its closing three track ‘narcotic suite’ flag a rockist turn to the portentous. It sells incredibly well, its massive success a foretaste of the no future to come – soon after, it would be lads’ mags, Britpop, and ‘dance music’ broken down to one more style in the colourless, dissolute spectacle of the corporate rock festival. And rave? It was already yesterday’s dream.
06: LIQUID LIQUID
SLIP IN AND OUT OF PHENOMENON
In the last five years, thanks mainly due to dance floor taste-makers like DFA and Optimo, Liquid Liquid have gone from post-punk obscurities to cultural touchstones, and given the current climate where anything and everything gets re-issued (usually in a popcorn box with a signed toe-nail clipping to boot), it’s frankly pretty shocking that it took this long for Liquid Liquid’s first three EPs to become widely re-available.
But thanks to Domino, here they are; all glorious rhythm section and punk-funk chords that expertly bind 70s punk to 90s electronica, while a thousand kids with Rapidshare accounts pretend that they knew about Young’s merry band all along.
05: A GUY CALLED GERALD
BLACK SECRET TECHNOLOGY
(A GUY CALLED GERALD MUSIC)
In a year that saw contemporary artists commemorating and reimagining the hardcore sound of the early 90 with starlting efficacy and affection – step forward Zomby and HATE – the reissue of Black Secret Technology was nothing if not timely.
A Guy Called Gerald is of course Gerald Simpson, best known for his place in the early line-up of 808 State (he left shortly before they went shit) and his acid house anthem ‘Voodoo Ray’. A slightly lesser-known but no less important contribution to British dance music was Black Secret Technology, a maudlin masterpiece of scuzzy breakbeats and grainy atmospherics which anticipates not only jungle but also the mood and sound design of Burial’s rain-swept garage. On Black Secret Technology Simpson proved that that dance music could be a site of spiritual restlessness, yearning and dislocation as well as wide-eyed bliss and self-annihilating hedonism.
04. DENNIS WILSON
PACIFIC OCEAN BLUE: LEGACY EDITION
People always talk about Pacific Ocean Blue being a “lost” album, “impossible to find”, etc . But I managed to download if off Soulseek three years back, and I saw them selling a bootleg down my local market when I was a teenager, so it’s obviously not that much of a curate’s egg.
As such, what was great about this re-issue wasn’t so much any great sense of discovery – though first-timers will doubtless feel that thrill – as the lavishness of the 3xLP package. Wilson is invariably painted as a lost soul, the least talented Beach Boy (well, they were a talented bunch) and famously the only one of ‘em that could actually surf.
Whatever. What I love about Pacific Ocean Blue to this day is its sheer bombast – this is big-bollocked, coke-addled 1970s music, conceived and executed on a grand, no, ludicrous, scale. Need a couple of backing vocalists? Yeah. OK, let’s get twenty in. That’s not enough? OK, let’s get those twenty, plus The Double Rock Baptist Choir. Enough? OK. Accordion, horn section, reed section, guitars, harp, percussion, wait – you want a harp as well? Sure thing. Wilson and his co-conspirators literally chuck in everything and the kitchen sink.
There’s so much musical input, so to speak, that Pacific Ocean Blue is more than anything a triumph or arrangement and organization: so take a bow, Carli Munoz, Gregg Jakobson, John Hanlon, Jimmy Haskell and Sid Sharp. Anyway, if you’ve not heard ‘River Song’, surely the most over-the-top, life-affirming song ever committed to tape, you really ought to – listening to it really loud is basically like taking an E, but better. Much is made of Wilson’s dalliance with the dark side: getting mixed up with the Manson gang, bad vibes and bad drugs, and drowning tragically in 1983. But while there’s a decidedly rueful undercurrent to Pacific Ocean Blue, it’s no portent of doom; rather, it’s a near-nuclear explosion of vivacity and rapture.
03. APHEX TWIN
SELECTED AMBIENT WORKS 85–92 / CLASSICS
The re-launch of Belgium’s R&S label prompted the re-release of these two classic Richard D James collections. Unlike those of, say, GAS, the world hardly needed reminding that these records exist, but who cares? Selected Ambient Works in particular is an album so inexhaustibly wonderful that it should be reissued every year.
Assembling early Aphex tracks produced on modified and home-made equipment in his native Cornwall, James is deliberately provocative in the title he gives the collection: for if any of these tracks really do originate from 1985, he basically invented acid house three years early. For my money, ‘Tha’ is just about the greatest piece of music ever recorded, but there’s no limit to the thrills and spills on offer: from the vampy rave (not so ambient after all) of ‘Ptolemy’ and ‘Willy Wonka’-sampling ‘We Are The Music Makers’, these tunes are truly the shit.
Classics, meanwhile, provides exactly what it says on the tin – find me any pair of tracks that summon the ecstatic, cosmos-compressing power of rave quite so magnificently as ‘Didgeridoo’ and ‘Polynomial-C’ and I will literally cut my dick off and eat it.
02: ARTHUR RUSSELL
LOVE IS OVERTAKING ME
Russell’s reverb-laden studio work always had a disarming rawness to it, so you’d think his demos would be even scratchier – but thanks to fresh mixing and restoration work by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, these recordings, made between 1970 and 1991, are full-bodied and vivid.
They’re also surprisingly accessible and, by Russell’s standards, conventional. Most often they summon the AM-rock of Tom Petty or On The Beach-era Neil Young. ‘Time Away’, though, is pure VU-meets-Pavement. The contents of Love Is Overtaking Me might not be as important as the avant-dub and disco experiments which Russell remains best known for, but they’re similarly odd, engrossing and essential.
NAH UND FERN / WOLFGANG VOIGT: GAS
(KOMPAKT / RASTER-NOTON)
Kompakt’s Nah Und Fern was a significant reissue for us because it was genuinely illuminating: though we were aware of Wolfgang Voigt’s work under the guise of GAS, in truth we were only faintly acquainted with it, in part because original copies of his 12″s and LPs were, and remain, pretty hard to come by.
Kompakt’s Nah Und Fern consisted of GAS’s four proper studio albums remastered on CD. These records – GAS (1996), Zauberberg (1997), Konigsforst (1998) and Pop (2000) – represent not just a highly accomplished body of work from one of electronic music’s most enduring characters, but also a singular aesthetic, a unique mythology; in short, they contain a world within them.