Classic rap! Classic ambient! Classic Polish disco!: April’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.
April’s (frankly ridiculous) haul: not one but two rap touchstones; not one but two of the most essential albums of the 1980s; not one but…well, okay, one of the most important surveys of American folk music; and, just for the hell of it, some off-piste Polish disco.
Alternatively, check out our best reissues of 2013 rundown.
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Structures From Silence
There’s only so many times we can prosthelytise about Structures From Silence – our 10th favourite album of the 1980s, and, as we put it in our recent interview with Roach, a record that’s “deep, majestic, coruscating as coral.” But, soapbox creaking beneath our feet, we’ll have another crack nonetheless.
Prior to Structures – and, indeed, on follow-up Empetus – the California-based Roach was making strobing Krautrock in the mould of Schulze and Gottsching. His 1984 breakout, however, jettisoned lockstep sequencing in favour of gentle, billowing synth phrases, designed to mimic the passage of the inbreath and the outbreath. These three long-form compositions still sound gorgeous: the stately faerie-frolic of ‘Reflections in Suspension’; the gentle susurrations of ‘Quiet Friend’; and the standout title track, which can still stops hearts on demand. Despite being a textural album, its unashamedly melodic; Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II wouldn’t – and couldn’t – exist without it.
Projeckt – who also handled a 2001 reissue – have gone to town with the 30th anniversary edition: as well as a new remaster, they’ve also included two-hours-worth of unreleased compositions from Roach, conceived in the same spirit as the original record.
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What to say? If you haven’t heard Illmatic, you’re well behind; and if you haven’t loved Illmatic, you’re in a pretty measly minority. It’s hard to think of another cast-in-iron Rap Classic that has weathered the years quite as well as Nas’ debut – unlike many contemporaries, it sounds neither dated nor bloated. The hip-hop album doesn’t need to be neat and tidy, of course – see De La Soul Is Dead, or Madvillainy – but Illmatic‘s all-business ten-track punch still sounds refreshingly on-point. The Best Hip-Hop Album EverTM? Probably not – but the fact that it’s tussled with that albatross for the last twenty years and still not been socked with a backlash is a mark of its class and calibre.
The 20th anniversary edition comes bundled with a second disc, featuring another neat ten of remixes, rarities and unreleased freestyles. Archive track ‘I’m A Villain’ and the Stretch Armstrong And Bobbito Show recording are the two keepers, with the various other takes and edits offering an interesting slant on the record. Our heart’s probably still with Get On Down’s 2012 plush reissue, which laid on the cherrywood-box-and-gold-plaque pomp, but as major label memorial efforts go, this is a success.
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Now here’s a yarn. In the late 1960s, Sheffield-born central heating salesman Barrington Frost downed tools and, believing himself to be the reincarnation of an Egyptian Pharaoh, rebranded himself as psych-rock traveller Ramases, with his wife Selket (birth name: Dorothy) in tow. The pair recorded an album, Space Hymns, for Vertigo in 1971, backed by a gaggle of musicians who would later become 10cc. It tanked, as did 1975’s richly orchestrated follow-up Glass Top Coffin. Frost, sadly, took his own life the following year.
Ramases Complete Discography pulls together all of Ramases’ work in one place: the outfit’s two LPs, a string of early singles, plus an enormous amount of unreleased material and a number of covers by contemporary fans (Blonde From Fargo and Rocketboat among them). Space-folk cadets have been saying it for years, but the two LPs here are exceptional. Space Hymns is a rootsy psych-rock record, that’s surprisingly taut given its purview. Glass Top Coffin, meanwhile, is the superior affair – mistier, trippier, and anchored by proper honest-to-Horus songwriting.
Ramases Complete Discography arrives in a limited run of 1000, although there’s also a digital edition for the slow-moving. Artwork comes from Current 93’s David Tibet, who also contributes a short essay. In another odd twist, Ramases Complete Discography is a decade-long labour of love by Stormvox boss Peter Stormare, who Coen brothers fans will recognise as the bleached-blonde killer in Fargo.
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Where Wu-Tang stylised hood-life as a Sun Tzu skirmish, Mobb Deep’s second album gave us a Through The Looking Glass vision of the streets – Gothic, fantastical, crepuscular. The Infamous is tough as Spartan nails, but rarely has an album of bruisers sounded quite so bruised. The swampy production, all hanging harmonics and sustained pianos, still sounds thoroughly immersive; acme moment ‘Shook Ones Pt. II’ remains rap’s best ever teeth-chatterer. Street music, dream logic.
You get TNT-grade bang for your buck on this self-released reissue, which features a disc of unreleased material dating from the 1994 sessions (Ghostface and Nas make appearances). Also included is the pair’s new album, The Infamous Mobb Deep, which doesn’t exactly match past glories, but at least proves they’re talking again after that weird, grisly Twitter barney.
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Fog Tropes / Gradual Requiem
(Arc Light Editions)
Another record celebrating its pearl anniversary, Fog Tropes / Gradual Requiem collects two of the best known works by ’70s/’80s minimalist composer Ingram Marshall. As befits a student of Morton Subotnick, his compositions are hybrid forms – places where tape loops contend with instrumental playing, and where the difference between found and artificial sound is never quite clear.
Fog Tropes (1981) uses samples of of fog horns, recorded in San Francisco bay, as its starting point – although, unlike Phill Niblock’s Nothin To Look At Just A Record, those horn drones are used to eerie rather than abrasive effect. Dark ambient enthusiasts will be well at home here, what with the string tremolos, throbbing bass currents and processed vocals (in fact, throw in some head-knock drums, and you’re not a million miles away from The Infamous territory).
Gradual Requiem (1980) is much more forward – a five part suite where strident passages of solo piano peep out from behind phased synths and treated flute recordings. Both compositions point towards the sort of territory that the likes of Jeff Greinke and Nurse With Wound would till in the years to come. Arc Light Editions new version marks the record’s first vinyl foray since its original release.
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Jones’ fifth album is certainly her most iconic – and likely her best, too. Don’t judge a book by its cover: unlike Jean-Paule Goude’s uber-angular sleeve image, 1981’s Nightclubbing is a record of blurred lines – wobbly, sozzled versions of familiar cuts by Iggy Pop, Bill Withers and Sting. Jones is, of course, working the spotlight throughout, but the mimetic arrangements – performed by the likes of Sly And Robbie and Wally Badarou (whose classic Echoes came out the same year) – are the real stars: note the pitter-patter percussion rattles that pockmark ‘Walking In The Rain’; ‘Pull Up To The Bumper”s jalopy beat and traffic noise; and the vertiginous bass work on ‘I’ve Done It Again’, which replicates the sound of shrug of resignation after shrug of resignation.
Island’s version has been remastered from the original tapes from the purpose, and throws in ten-odd alt. takes and B-sides, including a great cover of Tubeway Army’s ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’.
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Hit And Run
(Saint Cecilia Knows)
Jack Ruby operated during punk’s lifetime, but, really, in comportment (anything-goes experimental noise) and legacy (minimal recording footprint), they resemble No Wavers like Suicide and DNA. Between 1973 and 1977, the band mutated through four different line-ups, variously producing punk-rock , synthesiser-and-violin assisted art racket, and brutalised pop music. Highly inventive with a minuscule profile, it’s no wonder they’ve been championed by the likes of Thurston Moore, who contributes liner notes to this compilation of exclusives and rarities.
Saint Cecilia Knows’ package is partitioned into two halves: ‘Hit’, which collects the band’s entire studio recorded output – all five tracks of it – plus a rehearsal tape and a new remix from Don Fleming; and ‘Run’, which features a string of electronic recordings from 1972 and 1974 that sound like mangled Radiophonic Workshop offcuts, plus two 16 minute collage pieces of feedback, caterwauling, and Serge synthesiser bleeps. It’s a scattershot collection of 1970s avant-rock in all its many permutations, and comprehensively out-weirds everything else in this month’s list. Bonus treats: original art from Ken Hamagucki, a 48 page booklet and a fold-out poster.
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Anthology Of American Folk Music
First released in 1952, the 84-track Anthology Of American Folk Music was pulled together by Beat big dog Harry Smith, who’d devoted himself to amassing out-of-print 78rpm recordings of American folk forms. The selected tracks, dating from between 1927 and 1932, span gospel, folk, blues and country; indeed, no record before it had juxtaposed black and white musics in such an inclusive way. Essentially a bootleg – would you expect a hepcat like Smith to actually license this stuff? – it tilts from the highly-regarded (The Carter Family, Mississipi John Hurt) to the ultra-obscure. Its legend is now long established: a Rosetta Stone for young artists (Bob Dylan and John Fahey among them) discovering the US folk vernacular for the first time. Not for nothing is it regularly pegged as one of the most iconic compilations of the 20th century.
Mississipi’s limited vinyl box set – also available as standalone 2xLP volumes – is the compilation’s first vinyl outing in a good few years, and mirrors Smith’s original system of categorisation: Ballads, Songs, Social Music and Rhythmic Changes. In a nice devotional touch, each volume comes swaddled in cloth. As befits the source material, it’s a bit of a bugger to track down, but it’s worth the graft to source this lovingly presented hamper of history.
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Chasing The Shadow Of Bryn Jones 1983-1988
Here’s a surefire shortcut to RSI – shuffle over to Discogs and try scrolling through the entirety of Bryn Jones’ entire output as Muslimgauze. Jones’ work is pretty much the definition of cult, in the sense of being both furiously, obsessively singular (pretty much all of his work is spooked percussive loop music, thematically preoccupied with Middle Eastern politics and the Palestinian dilemma), and just about endless (at the height of his productivity, Jones was knocking out an album a week.)
Jones catalogue of posthumous compilations is larger than most producer’s entire discographies, but Vinyl-On-Demand’s is certainly the most luxuriant yet. Chasing The Shadow of Bryn Jones collects his work from 1983-7, when that distinctive Muslimgauze sound was starting to coalesce and crystallize. This lovingly designed 10xLP set features all the Muslimgauze records from that timeframe – all remastered, naturally – plus a bonus CD compilation, poster and whopping 208 page book about Jones’ work.
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Man Of Marble
Finders Keepers have been keeping a fire burning for Polish composer Andrzej Korzyński for some time: their 2012 Tejamnica Enigmy compilation collected a dizzyingly varied collection of unheard library and soundtrack work, and reissues of 1981 horror OST Possession and Polish cop show SOS have also seen the light of day.
Their latest Korzyński disc contains his score for 1977 film Man Of Marble – and it’s a sugar-flecked treat for fans of synthesiser-heavy OSTs. Man Of Marble sees Korzyński pushing his Arp-Life outfit – described by Finders Keepers as the country’s “first ever dedicated synthesiser ensemble” – to the fore. The resulting recording is best described as Polish space disco, driven by saccharine synth lines, and unapologetically wigged out from start to finish. This edition marks its vinyl debut, and comes tricked out with exclusive unreleased tracks.
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