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 favourite reissues and retrospectives of the last two months.
What’s that in your knapsack, July and August? Bad-trip disco for racing minds; one of Brazilian music’s burliest goliaths; jolly Kompa Funk from Haiti; and some top-notch brainblurt from camp Can, amongst others.
Alternatively, check out our best reissues of 2013 rundown.
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Come On Die Young
Mogwai have always scorned the term “post-rock”, and not without reason – at once absurdly bombastic and hideously vague, it does few favours for those lumbered with it, and little credit to those – us included – who do the plastering. But if there’s any Mogwai album where the term makes sense, it’s CODY. Their 1999 classic opens with an interview with Iggy Pop, railing against the creative bankruptcy of the punk scene over a dark ambient backdrop. CODY might not be “post-rock”, but it does explicitly grapple with what rock’n’roll can be – its shortcomings, its hypocrisies, its possibilities.
In contrast with the sky-scraping noise and grandeur of 1997’s Young Team, CODY is obsidian dark from end to end. Young Team’s moments of blinding satori are replaced with a general sense of contemplation and concentration; where its predecessor balances peaks and troughs, CODY spends nearly all of its time in the valleys. Tempos are slowed to crawl, and feedback drifts listlessly across the record.
This inward turn makes for a more nuanced album, where light contends with shade. ‘Helps Both Ways’ has a gorgeous pastoral feel, like a whacked-out Henry Cow, but the television commentary running throughout suggests threat and disorder. ‘Cody’, by contrast, is an introspective dirge, but one leavened by hints of West Coast surf guitar. Is this optimistic music – a bedsit dweller’s dreams of the coast – or a bummer – the sound of junkie agony on SoCal beaches? CODY’s ambiguity is its triumph, and for those who like their Mogwai deep and brooding, it’s still the album to beat.
Plenty of bonus material with this one: the original scrapped CAVA sessions for the album, freshly remastered and remixed by the band, plus B-sides and the ace Helps Both Ways EP.
(Groove Line Records)
Disco excavators Groove Line have been doing a nice line in 12” reissues recently (check their recent repress of Donna McGhee’s languid 1978 single ‘Make It Last Forever’). But they’re going to need to wheel out the frackers to dig up something to top their latest release – Bumblebee Unlimited’s classic-beyond-classic ‘Lady Bug’.
Bumblebee Unlimited were a collective helmed by Patrick Adams and Greg Carmichael – big players on key labels like Salsoul and Prelude, and responsible for some exceptional disco-leaning production projects (Inner Life and Cloud One, amongst others). 1976’s ‘Love Bug’ – an insect-themed disco shuffler with a silly Rimsky-Korsakov breakdown – was their first hit. An album followed, but nothing that holds a beeswax candle to the brilliance of ‘Lady Bug’.
Released in 1978, ‘Lady Bug’ is pure dancefloor apitoxin – a feverish psychedelic disco number, layering pitched-up bedroom chatter over a thrumming, insistent 4×4 instrumental. There’s a dorky ‘70s skin flick vibe throughout (“I want to sting you”), and the rhythm section putt-putts along with commendable force. Newly remastered by Matt Colton, this edition features the definitive John Morales and Frank Trimarco mix on the A-side; the flip, meanwhile, goes to Larry Levan’s sparser, cleaner remix. Mad as a hutch of March hares.
Visions of Dune
Bernard Szajner has a firm place in FACT lore thanks to his 1980 masterpiece Some Deaths Take Forever – one of our favourites of the decade, a record Carl Craig once claimed was his favourite electronic album of all time. Sometimes pegged as France’s answer to Brian Eno, Szajner has variously designed light-shows, built electronic instruments, made straight-ahead synth-pop (with The (Hypothetical) Prophets) and worked in robotics. Visions of Dune – his first album, released under the name Z – speaks to all those interests: it’s a scintillating burst of light, colour and churning machinery.
Visions of Dune is a long suite of headspinning electro-rock, built out of repeated tape and synth loops and set over live drumming. Performed with a cast of Zeuhl big-leaguers, including members of Magma, Gong and Heldon, Visions of Dune is seriously avant la lettre stuff – even prior to the remaster, Visions of Dune sounds like it could have been recorded today, and InFiné’s version ups the resolution and the gloss. Drones throb, and synth tones rain down like aluminum foil ticker-tape; Heldon’s Interface is a fair point of comparison, but Visions of Dune is slicker, bolder, and more firmly rooted in the electronic. Stop snoozing, Emeralds and OPN fans – this is Ark of the Covenant stuff.
Reliable reissue bods Superior Viaduct have been turning out Brigitte Fontaine reissues for a while now: 2013 saw new outings for the French experimental icon’s 1968 debut Brigitte Fontaine Est…Folle and her received masterpiece, 1969’s Comme A La Radio. Fontaine’s discography is full of trapdoors and off-piste detours, and her self-titled 1972 album is arguably the first that sees her fully embracing, as opposed to dabbling with, the avant-garde.
Over the course of Brigitte Fontaine, songs give way to scripted dialogue, and traditional chanson shares disc space with avant-garde performance pieces. There’s folk(s)y self-analysis on the eponymous title track; the hypnotic ‘Moi Aussi’, which sees two voices doing battle over a tribal drum tattoo; serrated devotional ‘L’Auberge’; and, best of all, ‘Marcelle’, which combines Desertshore drones with agit-prop spoken-word interludes. Capitalisme!
Strictly speaking, a “funk” is a state of panic or disorientation, and The Group’s 1970 LP of bogeyman boogie proves that the genre can spook as well as groove. The Group – or, The Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza – was convened in the mid-1960s as a playpen for a range of Italian composers and musicians. Helmed by Franco Evangelisti, and numbering Ennio Morricone and Egisto Macchi amongst its ranks, the team dabbled in musique concrète, groove-based music, electronics, serialism and free jazz. Over a string of albums, synthesis and miscegenation are the order of the day.
The Feed-back (namechecked on the NWW List, incidentally) applies this see-what-sticks methodology to fusion rock, and the results are both fun and uneasy. The title track is a rollicking breakbeat jam, layered with squeals, drones and discordant trumpet notes – groovy at 01:00, nightmarish by 06:00. ‘Quasars’ is even weirder, with ugly guitar scrimmage contesting – and, eventually, entirely overwhelming – a motorik beat. And by the long, loopy closing track ‘Kumalo’, all bets are off…
Understandably eclipsed by CODY, Dave Pajo’s solitary album as Aerial M is July’s other great instrumental rock reissue, and certainly the sprightlier of the two. A serial flitter (Zwan, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Interpol), Pajo had worked with Will Oldham’s Palace Brothers, Stereolab and Tortoise in the years prior to Aerial M. This 1997 LP, played and produced entirely by Pajo, feels intensely solitary and focused. The sonic palette – pinprick-precise guitar playing over warm, fluent bass lines – is reminiscent of Pajo’s time with Slint, but that band’s trickiness is largely absent.
Instead, these are taut and brittle compositions, The spidery guitar playing on ‘Dazed And Awake’ lures you in gently, and ‘Aass’ has the grace and intricacy of chamber music – two guitar lines, charmer and snake, moving in sync. There are experimental flourishes – see the churning tape loops on ‘Compassion For M’ – but, for the most part, this is a bare-bones affair. Essential listening for The xx fans – and, at barely half an hour long, commendably concise. Out of print for the best part of the decade, this new edition isn’t to be slept on.
Tropicália: Ou Panis et Circencis
Tropicália albums don’t come much more important than Ou Panis et Circencis – a one-stop survey of the movement’s key players, and the record that arguably formalised the Tropicalismo sound. Ou Panis et Circencis gathers a clowder of hep-cats who would become figureheads of the movement: the biggies – Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes, Tom Ze – plus crucial figures like Gal Costa and Nara Leao. The breadth of Tropicalismo – its alloying of traditional Brazilian forms with psych-rock, jazz, electronics and Dada – is also on full display.
The tracks here range from solo showcases to collaborative efforts. Veloso’s lavish ballads rub shoulders with Os Mutantes’ cock-a-hoop psychedelic pop; jaunty kitsch (‘Tres Caravelas’) sits alongside twisted folk. Then there’s the immortal ‘Baby’, a long-minted standard that swaddles you like a duvet. It’s an explosion of colour and enthusiasm, but there are dark notes too: the martial horns and coy political lyrics reference Brazil’s military dictatorship, which, not long after Ou Panis et Circencis’ release, would push many of the album’s participants into exile.
Soul Jazz (who traversed similar territory on 2005’s fine Tropicália compilation) handle the reissue. Physical copies have long been hard to find; the record is an obvious starting point for greenhorns, so hat-tip to them for putting it back in circulation.
Der Osten Ist Rot / Rome Remains Rome
A sampledelic double-header from Can’s spirit guide Holger Czukay. Czukay studied under Stockhausen, and 1984’s Der Osten Ist Rot sees him working concertedly with musique concrète and found sound. The album is an early showcase for the Emulator sampler, although “crash-course” might be better phrase: Der Osten Ist Rot is a high-speed pile-up of radio chatter, Chinese orchestras, paradiddles and sound poetry, often layered over looped recordings from Africa and the East. Czukay and producer Conny Plank are clearly having a whale of a time, and the prettier moments (the title track in particular) offset the goofs and sideswerves.
1987’s Rome Remains Rome (which, pontifex spotters, samples Pope John Paul II) is the less janky of the two – ‘Blessed Easter’ sets found recordings over a louche funk groove, and the pulsing electro-slop of ‘Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop’ has barely dated (although you do get the daffy ‘Hit Hit Flop Flop’, which plays like ‘Agadoo’ arranged for the Requiem Of A Dream OST). This reissue conveniently packages both albums together in a 2×10” package, with three bonus remixes bolted on.
Liturgy don’t make black metal – they make “black metal”. Not in the sense that their work is dilettantish, although plenty of metallers have been quick to deride them as hipster twats-in-wolves-clothing. No – it’s more that their work feels at a remove from black metal, pulling from its sonic playbook but using the building blocks to entirely different ends.
Liturgy cite Glenn Branca as an influence, and it really shows: the monolithic slabs of sound on their 2009 debut share more with Phill Niblock or Peter Brontzmann’s solid, slow-moving exercises in volume than anything approaching occult rifferama. The quartet’s music is full of interesting ideas: unexpected stop-starts; galloping accesses of energy that moderate in intensity, and occasional hat-tips to melody that fragment into something else. Renihilation is a widescreen set of blast beats and shimmering fuzz that immerses and antagonizes – shoegaze with a hidden gambler’s dagger.
Thrill Jockey’s reissue brings the album back to vinyl for the first time in an age; the first 500 buyers will cadge a special white vinyl edition. Unholy noise forever!
Ninety / ex:el
808 on C60 – here are two biggies from the Manchester dons, by way of Canada’s Artoffact label. In all likelihood, you’ve already got 808 State’s 1989 LP Ninety – their best-regarded release, and a landmark album in the history of homegrown house and techno. It’s less likely you’ll have it on cassette – and if so, presumably not on ones as cute as these, which come in eight different colours and have been specially remastered for the purpose.
Same goes for 1990’s comparatively experimental ex:el, which features guest spots from Björk and Bernard Sumner. 150 copies of each will be ready to dispatch by the end of the month. Newbuild next, please…
Wild Style Breakbeats
Charlie Ahearn’s revered hip-hop flick Wild Style is an important cultural document, for sure, but it’s definitely easier to rhapsodise about than it is to watch: for all the stunning live performance footage, there’s a lot of shonky storytelling to wade through. That said, the soundtrack, assembled and overseen by (brilliantly charismatic) Wild Style star Fab 5 Freddy, is unimpeachable – and, over 30 years on, it’s got its most considered and impressive release yet.
Kay-Dee’s 7×7” package arrives under the stewardship of Masters At Work’s Kenny Dope, and he’s done the originals credit. The set presents those Wild Style breakbeats in new extended edit form, with short snippets stretched out to full song length. These tracks’ eerie clockwork funk, cut’n’pasted from parts played ad hoc by crack studio musicians assembled by Freddie, is allowed to sing, and that’s to be thoroughly applauded.
There’s style to match the substance too: the package includes some chunky packaging, a 28-page book with comprehensive liner notes and interviews with key players, and a unique etching on the flip of disc seven.
There’s been some contention at FACT towers re: Drexciya’s best album, but let’s face it – Neptune’s Lair is obviously the daddy. The first album from the duo – the most conceptually playful (and perhaps the most mythologised) of Detroit techno’s second wave – might not touch the giddy heights (or perhaps that should be depths?) of their EP output, but it comes thrillingly close. Coiling electrofunk is the order of the day, by turns darkly cinematic (‘Species of the Pod’, ‘Polymono Plexusgel’), impossibly lush (‘Running out of Space’) and thrillingly elastic (‘Funk Release Valve’).
Neptune’s Lair last surfaced for air in 2010, when it got a limited reissue that’s now the preserve of Ebay scalps. This new Tresor vinyl/CD edition remedies that – and they’ve also put out the Hydro Doorways 12”, which makes for a fine companion piece.
Skinhead punks by appearance, The Apostles made music that’s much more worldy than first impressions might suggest; indeed, the Hackney outfit deliberately stylised themselves as an “art and performance group”. Formed in 1980, Dave Fanning and Andy Martin’s unit belonged to the same anarcho-punk set as Conflict, whose Mortarhate label put out many of their releases. Alongside a run of 7”s and albums, they also turned out broadsides, pamphlets and letters, and their music has a similar news-just-in feel: plain-speaking accounts of the business of grubbing along in the inner city that has some of the same colloquial charge as Mike Skinner.
Punk Obituary demonstrates just how inadequate the “punk” tag was for these antsy fellers: see the twinkly off-to-work-we-go pastoral of ‘Worker’s Autonomy’; the twinkle-toed, ragged-trousered indie shuffle of ’62 Brougham Road’; or ’The Sword’, which isn’t a million miles away from The Smiths at their most plaintive .
HENRI PIERRE NOËL
One More Step
(Wah Wah 45s)
An album featuring tracks called ‘Roller Skate Rhapsody’ and ‘Funky Spider Dance’ isn’t going to be packed with modal dirges, but this really is exceptionally cheery stuff. Based out of Haiti in the late 1970s, Noël performed self-described “Kompa Funk”, a worldy, souped-up version of the country’s méringue music. Noël’s piano playing shares something with the thumping boogie-woogie style – syncopated, forceful and percussive.
Noël’s 1979 album Piano got a reissue on Wah Wah 45s in 2012, and the label have followed up with this second LP of spirited plinkety-plonk. Where Piano offered prim funk and swing, One More Step collects work with a richer sound palette and a strong sense of crossover grab. Shades of samba (‘Joy To Me’), disco (‘Afro-Funk’) and Serge Gainsbourg-style pillow talk (‘Will Come A Day’) add extra flavour to his jaunty productions. It’s all pretty straight-down-the-line, but, correctly deployed, it’s lovely – a welcome salve for stuffy summer drives.
This new version has been remastered from the original multi-track tapes, comes with explicatory notes from Reveal Records’ Peter Riven, and arrives on vinyl, CD and digital.
Archive Recordings Vol. 1
Swell Maps were pure Peel-nip. Centred around brothers Nikki Sudden (!) and Epic Soundtracks (!!), the Solihull outfit’s music often has the posture and fury of first-wave punk, but their unlikely toolkit – ring modulators, balalaikas, turntables and rewired toy bears – makes for music that points somewhere else entirely. Debut LP A Trip to Marineville is a great collection of sinewy, angular rhythms and crunchy guitar work. Even better is 1980’s Jane From Occupied Europe – a beefier and more texturally varied record with a strong motorik pulse.
Spain’s Munster Records have turned their attention to Archive Recordings Vol. 1: Wastrels and Whippersnappers, first released on Overground Records in 2006, and now getting its debut vinyl outing. Wastrels and Whippersnappers collects 23 early recordings from the Maps, and sees them at both their scrappiest and their most inquisitive. There’s a lot of ephemera here – a ‘God Save The Queen’/‘Batman Theme’ one-two, anyone? – but there’s plenty of boggle-eyed noise to enjoy.