Rave! Vogue! Phantasmagoric synth balladry!: May’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.
It’s another top-drawer month: a corking primer from ambient experts All Saints; Linda Perhacs’ immaculate Parallelograms; a classic ballroom house touchstone; and, courtesy of mystery-man Lewis, the swooniest record we’ve heard all year.
Alternatively, check out our best reissues of 2013 rundown.
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Midtown 120 Blues
As outlined in our recent précis of her long career, Thaemlitz’s music skips all over the place: chintzy Kraftwerk covers in the rubato style; opaque electroacoustic works; gorgeous deep house workouts; and radio plays about “transgenderism and migration.” Whatever her chosen form, Thaemlitz’s work is always politically charged and ideologically driven, often beyond the point of comfort; it takes serious commitment to muscle through, say, 2012’s 23-hour Soulnessless.
Clued-up house fans will already know this – we’ve already smacked it with a 5/5 in our review section – but Midtown 120 Blues is Thaemlitz’s high watermark, the point where her food for thought is most liberally sugared. The intro sets the tone: a quietly splenetic monologue about the knotty politics of distribution, dance journalism and clubland nostalgia, set to blissed-out deep house. Madonna’s transgender tourism is debated over lucent synths; feminist polemic shares space with chugging organ grooves. It’s one of the most uncanny dance full-lengths in recent memory – a triumph of twinkling synths and spat teeth. And whilst you’re at it, take some time to digest Thaemlitz’s comparatively- underrated 2006 LP as K-SHE, Routes Not Roots, which runs Midtown 120 Blues damn close.
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Parallellograms, originally released on Kapp in 1970, spent three decades as a proper buried treasure – a barely-heard psych-folk album by a dental hygienist who wouldn’t make another record for 44 years. A series of bootlegs and a keynote release in 2005 changed all that – in (admittedly small) folky circles, Perhacs was swiftly elevated to grande dame status.
And quite right too. Parallelograms is a remarkable achievement, held together by gorgeous arrangements and a wonderful central performance. Vashti Bunyan’s roughly contemporaneous Just Another Diamond Day is an oft-cited point of comparison, but Perhacs’ release is the richer – and cetainly the sassier – of the two. Parallelograms has two modes – breezy West Coast singer-songwriter fare (‘Sandy Toes, ‘Paper Mountain Man’), and mystic folk (the title track, ‘Dolphin’). The highlights are simply stunning: see the gut-tugging harmonies on ‘Chimacum Rain’; rustic devotional ‘Dolphin’; and ‘Parallelograms” stunning geometrics.
Anthology’s reissue is the first since Mexican Summer’s 2010 effort, and one-ups its predecessor with a fresh remaster, plus an extra LP of demos and interviews.
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The Death of Rave
(History Always Favours the Winners)
Acid reflux 101. Inspired – or, rather, horrified – by a mid-2000s visit to Berghain, Kirby (once of V/Vm, now best known for his work as The Caretaker) decided to memorialise the rave music he came of age with. To that end, he started manipulating and processing vintage rave tracks, turning day-glo bangers into spooked, elegiac ambient pieces. Over 200 tracks were posted to Kirby’s V/Vm Test website, until the project was discontinued in 2008, and left to settle into legend.
The Death Of Rave presents eight tracks from the project’s sprawling archives, remastered by Matt Colton for the purpose, and given titles plucked from “the strongest rave-memories I have from those nights” (God knows who Smithy & Dave the Rave were, but we’d very much like to meet them). The results are some way from the sentimentality of, say, Sadly, The Future Is no Longer What It Was; these are churning, rumbling productions, heavy with foreboding and distress. It’s a project with clear antecedents (notably Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore), but a sizeable legacy, too – see Theo Burt’s work with The Automatics Group, Lee Gamble’s Diversions, or Lorenzo Senni’s Quantum Jelly.
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(Blackest Ever Black)
Mick Hobbs’ Officer! project sprung from the ranks of Henry Cow’s politically engaged Rock-In-Opposition movement in the early 1980s. Their martial duties? Making eccentric see-what-sticks art-rock, as exemplified on 1984’s Ossification and 1988’s Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes. An acquired taste, for sure, but if your palate can handle The Cleaners From Venus or The 49 Americans, they’ll go down a treat.
In Dead Unique, Blackest Ever Black have scored something of a coup – a genuinely lost Officer! LP, recorded in 1995 and, for reasons that remain unclear, left to rot. The results are excellent – muddled, sozzled indie-pop that doesn’t hide its light under a bushel. This 18-track set darts between slap-happy indie-pop (‘Nardis’, ‘It Goes Up’), dub chamber experiments (‘Someone At The Door’), goofy whimsy (‘Shrug’ / ‘Good’ ) and knock-kneed stoner rock (‘Cows Hum In The Field’). A jolly good wheeze all round; fine work, chaps!
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(All Saints Records)
Ambient imprint All Saints have been firing out reissues thick and fast over the last 12 months, including retrospectives from zither wizard Laraaji and ambient pioneer Harold Budd. They’ve also put out a couple of remix 12″s, inviting the likes of Hieroglyphic Being, Bee Mask, Sun Araw and Peaking Lights to rifle through their back catalogue. And here’s Greater Lengths – a 2xCD state-of-the-label compilation that brings old hands and young pups face-to-face.
The first disc plots a path through the label’s back catalogue: various Brian Eno compositions; choral works by his brother Roger; some fine compositions from Roedelius, Budd and Laraaji; and an unlikely ambient piece from John Paul Jones. Readers of a twitchier disposition will have more fun on Disc 2, which features some of those aforementioned remixes, plus new edits from Bandshell, cLOUDDEAD beatmaker Odd Nosdam, and Warp’s Chopmaster General patten. Do give some time to All Saints’ other reissue of the month, too – Jon Hassell’s densely-packed 1990 collage LP City: Works of Fiction.
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STEPHEN DAVID HEITKOTTER
Perfunctory biography: Stephen David Heitkotter grew up in California in the mid-1960s, and laid down his solitary recording, Heitkotter, in 1971. Stuff the facts, though – this psych-rock stunner sounds like it was found underneath a particularly heavy paving stone, caked in grit and colonised by earwigs.
Heitkotter – newly rechristened Black Orckid by Now-Again – offers ravaged, damaged blues rock, ostensibly recorded in a particular grubby back alley. Heitkotter’s rattled vocals are backed by a knackered rhythm section that sounds like it could fall apart at any moment, and everything is buried under sedimentary layers of muck and fuzz. According to the label, Black Orckid was made in the early years of a battle with schizophrenia that would eventually leave Heitkotter permanently hospitalised. This isn’t “outsider music” in the Wesley Willis mould, though; the vibe is one of confusion rather than breakdown, of living on the edge rather than crossing over it.
The real goodies are buried in the second half, which features five previously unheard demos that push the volume dial into incarnadine territory. At its best, this is freakout rock to sit alongside Mainliner’s Mellow Out.
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(Light In The Attic)
Ladies and gentlemen, the lounge Jandek! In 1983, “Lewis” rocked up at a California recording studio with a white Mercedes and a model on his arm, recorded an album of phantasmagoric synth balladry, paid for his cover shoot by cheque – which bounced – and then vanished into the ether. Light In The Attic have tracked down a name – Randall Wulff – and some other albums of “soft religious music” under a different alias, but it’s still anyone’s guess who this man really was, and how he came to make such odd, featherlight music.
L’Amour‘s sonic world is hermetically sealed: all these tracks feature Lewis crooning over plucked guitar and icy synths that hover at the back of the mix. Lewis can’t low like Chet or growl like Waits, so settles for a tremulous croon that’s little more than a mumble. Those saturnine pads are laid down like a thick rug, along which our heartbroken protagonist ruefully stumbles. It’s only a Babybel’s breadth away from pure cheese, but for the most part, L’Amour gets the balance just right – Julee Cruise’s lush Falling Into The Night is a fair point of comparison. LITA’s new version marks the album’s first vinyl pressing in over three decades; if you’re planning on sobbing into a wine glass this weekend, make this your soundtrack of choice.
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Walk 4 Me
(Henry Street Music)
Of all the tracks to migrate from the US vogue circuit to broader dance circles, ‘Walk 4 Me’ is surely the best known – a stuttering, scuffed-up piece of sloganeering house. First released in 1995, Robbie Tronco’s classic is something of a ballroom house urtext. That insistent hook is the star, but it’s the production – snares that shatter like satin glass, juddering kicks, alarm sounds that rip through the mix – that really capture the attention. Famously (shamelessly?) cribbed on Boddika & Joy O’s 2011 single ‘Swims’ – something Tronco appears to have been less than happy about – it’s still a stunner.
Following last year’s digital reissue, Henry Street Music have given the track a 12″ reissue as part of their 20th anniversary celebrations. Two other tracks are bundled: ‘C.U.N.T (Tronco Meltdown’ is walloping industrial ballroom, whereas ‘Drops (Johnny V Stole My Sample Mix)’ is deeper and woozier. 95 North’s breezy jack attack ‘Who’s Hoo’ has also been given some reissue love.
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Encyclopedia of Arto
Arto Lindsay’s got a Walter Mitty sort of CV – one full of unlikely reinventions and unexpected ventures: noisy, Tourretic art-rock with DNA; not-so-easy listening with The Lounge Lizards; cosmopolitan funk-rock with The Golden Palaminos; urbane, ever-so-’80s pop with The Ambitious Lovers; and, as both artist and producer, touched-up bossanova and tropicalia.
Working with Lindsay, Northern Spy have taken a commendably slanted approach on this new best-of package. The first disc collects select tracks, picked by Lindsay, from his fine 1996-2004 run of bossa-besotted solo albums – O Corpo Sutil, Mundo Civilizado, Noon Chill, Prize, Invoke and Salt. This is Linsday at his most sedate, but there’s some quirky detailing at work here – jungle motifs on ‘Complicity’, Rodney Jerkins snap on ‘Illuminated’, guitar fuzz on ‘The Prize’.
Disc 2, meanwhile, is essentially a solo live album, and it’s a very different affair, with naughty No Wave Lindsay rearing his ugly head. It’s furious and noisy, carried by Lindsay’s cavalier guitar playing; his quiet-loud-quiet cover of Prince’s ‘Erotic City’ is a particular highlight. Taken together, the two sides make for an effective portrait of an artist who’s reinvented himself more time than you’ve gobbled hot dinners.
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Happy Machine: Standard Music Library 1970-2010
Remember Public Information’s superb 2012 compilation Tomorrow’s Achievements, which offered a whistlestop tour of the Parry Music Library? Here’s the sequel, this time turning its sights on library music agency Standard Music Library. Founded in 1968, Standard was a joint enterprise between London Weekend Television Themes and publisher David Platz: famous output includes the themes for Upstairs, Downstairs and On The Buses, and notable artists on their books included Brian Eno and Delia Derbyshire.
Where Tomorrow’s Achievements focused solely on music from 1976-1986, Happy Machine covers forty years of music-making from 1970 onwards. Mike Vickers, Brian Hodgson, Richard Thair, John Keating are among the better known names on the compilation, and Beatles producer George Martin even crops up. Featured: spacey ambiant, shonky electrofunk, quirky musique concrète and all manner of pabulum for bleepheads – and, like the last set, an emphasis on the spooky rather than the chipper. The 2xLP package is limited to 500 copies.
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