Japrock! Zamrock! Deathrock!: January’s ten must-hear reissues and retrospectives
Thanks to the graft of reissue labels and canny collectors, there’s an embarrassment of neglected, forgotten or misunderstood material being unearthed week by week.
The volume of new-old music doesn’t outpace new-new music, of course, but it’s not too far behind either. With so many more archival releases turning up on shelves, we’ve worked though the stacks to pick our 10 favourite reissues and retrospectives of the last month.
Ringing in a new year of old treats: Four Tet-approved UK garage magic; high-grade psychedelia from some of Argentina’s best-loved brujos; Japrock from the gods; and some of the most objectionable cover art you’re going to encounter all year.
Alternatively, check out our best reissues of 2013 rundown.
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Of late, Luke ‘Helm’ Youngers has been piecing together industrial bricolage for PAN, but his work hasn’t always sounded quite so pressure-cooked. Released back in 2008 when Birds Of Delay – his duo with Steven Warwick, aka Heatsick – were still airborne, Impasse shows us a different Helm – lighter, brighter, more open to joy and revelation.
Impasse originally arrived as a two-track CD-R, released on Low Point and limited to 80 copies. New Images’ reissue bolts on two more unreleased tracks from the period, and turns an excellent release into an exceptional one in the process. The originals still shine: ‘Glazing Over An Autumn Pastoral’ smothers New Age synth squiggles under a blanket of brilliant noise, and ‘Fields’ lets loose with the force of a cataract. The title cut, making its premiere here, is even more brazen, a riot of frenzied strings and static. It’s a great entry point into Helm’s dimly-let discography; at its best, Impasse touches the same sort of rapture as Drumming or A Rainbow In Curved Air.
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CRAZY BALD HEADS
Ultra-rare garage manna from 1998, courtesy of Kieran Hebden’s Text label. Previously repped on the 2011 Four Tet Fabriclive mix, ‘First Born’ has long been a Hebden favourite: having chanced upon the record at the time of release, he lobbied to give the single a proper release, only to find out that, inexplicably, the Bald ‘Eds had decided to split before their moment in the sun.
By the same taken, ‘First Born’ is a track that follows its gut, often against what might seem like its best interests. The staccato hits and rhythmic crunch of UK garage are swapped for something muddier and stranger; broken-beat and illbient loom as large as New Jersey house. There’s barely a four-bar stretch without an unexpected drop-out, weird filter or sonic twist – something exacerbated on the accompanying ‘Champagne Breakfast’ and ‘Lullaby In Dub’ mixes.
The previously unreleased Four Tet remix, also included, dials down the original’s idiosyncrasies, but will keep his constituency happy. As Hebden has it, this is “one of the weirdest and most unknown garage records from the late ’90s” – and a reminder that opulent garage-as-exotica doesn’t begin and end with ‘Sincere’.
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LOS SIQUICOS LITORALEÑOS
Confession: this nudged out at the tail-end of December, but since Los Siquicos Litoraleños refuse to play by the rules, we’re not going to either. Active since 2004, the Argentinian group specialise in goggle-eyed psychedelic pop, cooked up in their rural base in Corrientes and aired at their famously cracked Buenos Aires gigs-cum-happenings. This compilation marks their first international release, and pulls together material dating from between 2005-2010.
Cumbia is the rough template, but LST’s music veers all over the place – the freak-folk movement of the late 2000s looms large, but much of Sonido Chipadelico sounds like it could have been unearthed from Joe Meek’s basement. They’ve even coined a new name for their sound, “Chipadelia”, which, despite sounding like a WOMAD fast-food stand, reflects the childlike sense of play at work throughout. File alongside: Super Furry Animals, Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective, Black Dice.
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Killed By Deathrock
As a label tag, “deathrock” does what it says on the coffin – punk rock infected with goth’s sense anti-esprit. Sacred Bones’ Killed By Deathrock (a cheeky nod to the long-running Killed By Death punk comps) complicates matters, pulling together a ragtag bunch of cult acts on account of them being 1) loud 2) morbid and 3) pretty much impossible to find.
Seven years in the making, the set flits around the globe and across the 1980s. Along the way, curator Caleb Braaten draws on histrionic hardcore (Taste Of Decay) amped-up goth (The Naked And The Dead) and Martin Hannett-inspired post-punk (pretty much everything, to be honest). Most of it is completely barking, of course, but it’s the best soundtrack to sulky pogoing we’ve heard since Horrid Red’s Celestial Joy. Mardycore in its many colours (black, jet, taupe, onyx).
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JOEL VAN DROOGENBROECK
From the cover – a vampish extraterrestrial fellating a gas valve – we’d expect this to be schlocky rifferama or prog at its gaudiest. Not so: Biomechanoid is an eerie collection of gurgling electronic sketches and muddled ambient interludes.
Switzerland’s Van Droogenbroeck is best known as the mastermind of 1970s psych oddbods Brainticket. After retiring the band in the middle of the decade, Van Droogenbroeck threw himself into electronic composition. Released on young German imprint Colorsound in 1980, Biomechanoid is a pivotal record in his catalogue, opening the floodgates for scores of electronic releases over the decade to come. These are less compositions than stems, little sonic tricks each given five minutes to play themselves out – try the analogue bubblebath of ‘Dark Plasma’, the leapfrogging tones of ‘Asteroids’, or ‘Galaxy Recall”s soured chimes.
And that cover? Designed by HR Giger, whose work offered the visual template for Ridley Scott’s Alien.
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Lesson No. 1
Branca’s pivotal work is 1981’s The Ascent – a controlled guitar bombast that cracked the Top 20 of our best albums of the 1980s list. The honour of his first solo release, however, goes to 1980’s Lesson No. 1 – a record which, although comparatively minor in scale, pitches for the same sort of grandeur as its sequel.
Written following his exit from cult No Wave act Theoretical Girls, Lesson No. 1 features two tracks written for a tight ensemble of guitars, drums and strings. The title track is genuinely ecstatic, setting noisy guitar squall over a pounding motorik gallop. The B-side, ‘Dissonance’, is much more unruly and scattershot, and shares some DNA with John Zorn’s later screwball exercises with Naked City.
Superior Viaduct’s new edition brings the album back to vinyl for the first time in nearly 35 years, and bundles in a 12″ featuring another track from the period, ‘Bad Smells’ (boasting cameos from the likes of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, no less).
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LES RALLIZES DÉNUDÉS
Naked Diza Star
Once you roll back the boulder on Les Rallizes Denudes discography, there’s not really any going back – their career is long, cultish and extremely compelling. Active from the late 1960s, Mizutani Takashi’s outfit specialised in extreme volume – acid rock writ very large indeed. Their output tilts from heavily-baked folk to pure fuzz, and it’s long been hard to come by, on account of the band electing not to release records at all for the bulk of the 1970s and 1980s. As such, their work has been mapped retroactively through bootlegs, primers and retrospective releases.
Naked Diza Star fits that bill, collecting live material recorded during their fallow decades. First released in 2006 on Univive, the three-part set features recordings from gigs dating from 1973-1987. Bamboo’s 3xCD edition is digitally remastered, arrives with an 8-page booklet in tow, and packs more punches than a hacked-off heavyweight champion.
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Surface To Air
Pittsburgh duo Zombi operate on a strange sort of faultline. On the one hand, their straightforward, fist-punching rifferama brings instrumental headbangers like Holy Fuck to mind. On the other, their Goblin infatuation and horror flick nods put them firmly in league with the sort of spods that comb the Spin The Blackest Circles forums for Richard Band bootlegs. They’re speccy yet heavy – jock biceps hidden under anorak sleeves.
Relapse’s reissue drive has seen the band’s first three albums – 2004’s Cosmos, 2006’s Surface To Air and 2008’s Spirit Animal – all reappear on vinyl for the first time in yonks. Surface To Air is arguably the most satisfying, setting arpeggiator synths and Fabio Frizzi lines over thundering drums. It’s not subtle – Surface To Air has about as much finesse as a rhino with a migraine – but it’s great fun, and who can quibble with that? Controversial postscript: in our book, a fair chunk of Surface To Air sounds like it could have been plucked off Random Access Memories (not a barb).
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Talk To The Sea
(Music From Memory)
Italian composer Gigi Masin appears to have fallen into that all-too-familiar trap – a proper talent born into a scene too meagre to propel him far beyond the regional consciousness. Nourished by Venice’s less-than-robust electronic music community, the composer has issued two LPs, 1986’s Wind and 1991’s Wind Collector. Talk To The Sea pulls together material from those albums, plus a cluster of unheard tracks. The pieces here date from the early ’80s to the present day, and though the form varies – reverb-heavy pop in a Sade mould, ambient, shoegaze – there’s an attractive sense of polish throughout, as if Massin had chosen to dunk the masters in Febreze (again, not a barb).
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(Gusstaff / Miasmah)
Aficionados of contemporary Polish music – not something we can say we can boast many of in our office – point to this as one of the landmark electronic releases from the country in the last decade, and whilst we can’t claim to be particularly au fait with the competition, it’s hard to deny that Treny is a special sort of record. Released in 2008 on Gusstaff, it’s a graceful collection of electronically-enhanced modern composition – sentimental and full of drama, a la Machinefabrick or Murcof’s gentle works. Probably too demure for many, but the patient listener won’t leave feeling swindled.
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