Alice Coltrane, Cambodian surf rock and domestic techno: May’s 10 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 favourite reissues and retrospectives of the last month.
May’s ageing beauts: bone-jangling post-punk from the Haus of Peel; mid-90s fridgesong; Alice Coltrane’s great masterpiece back on vinyl; and the best soundtrack to a 14th century Norwegian plague that you’ll hear all month.
10. Donald Rubenstein
(One Way Static/Light In The Attic/Ship to Shore)
Another month, another volley of cult horror reissues of varying merit, but this one’s a biggie – Donald Rubinstein’s score for George A. Romero’s vampire thriller Martin. Composed when Rubinstein was in his his mid-20s, Martin is an elegant, sharply drawn jazz score. The incongruity of the score with its subject matter proved influential, and this score certainly works in isolation – a blend of folk instrumentation, hot jazz and judiciously applied electronics, with an opulent theme (‘The Calling’).
Interestingly, it’s a team-up between three labels – reissue column regulars (and rhyming words) Light in the Attic and One Way Static, and newcomers Ship to Shore. The record is limited to 2000 copies, available on “blood” red and “Transylvanian flashback” black and white (good luck finding that one on a Dulux colour chart).
9. Various Artists
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll
Prior the rise of the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1970s, Cambodia enjoyed a febrile rock’n’roll scene. John Pirozzi’s recent documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten shed light on the country’s 50s and 60s pop movement, and here’s the delightful soundtrack, courtesy of Dust To Digital.
It’s the sort of record you can imagine Tarantino losing his nut over, full of twanging surf rock, honey-sweet exotica and regional takes on Western pop classics. There are gorgeous moments amidst all the shakin’ and twistin’ – the Royal University of Fine Arts’ ‘Phnom Penh’ is stunning, and there are some unexpected moments of blistering, acid-fried rock amidst the parade of familiar covers. The mood is, for the most part, fun and light, but there’s real poignancy in the fact that many of these musicians were later persecuted, outlawed, or even killed.
8. Various Artists
Nu Yorica! Culture Clash In New York City: Experiments In Latin Music 1970-77 (20th Anniversary Edition)
Soul Jazz’s Nu Yorica! is that curious beast – a reissue of a reissue. But Nu Yorica! has just about earned a second airing: it’s 20 years old, and has a deserved reputation as one of the best compilations of the decade. This revised edition brings the collection back into print for the first time in 10 years, with a clutch of new tracks and a new remaster tossed in for good measure.
Nu Yorica!’s focus is New York salsa, the sort of creolisation of funk, streetwise jazz and traditional Latino rhythms that only the Big Apple could produce. The results are infectious: Cortijo Y Su Maquina Del Tiempo’s ‘Gumbo’, a soupy take on blaxploitation funk; Charlie Palmieri’s deliriously cheerful ‘Descarga Cachao’; Tempo 70’s rolling breakbeats; and Eddie Palmieri’s twitchy, meticulously detailed compositions. This is music with hot blood and funky bones; in terms of curatorial smarts, Nu Yorica!’s still hard to beat, and it’s only familiarity that keeps it from the top of this month’s list.
7. Various Artists
Cherrystones Presents Critical Mass: Splinters From The Worldwide New-Wave, Post-Punk and Industrial Underground 1978–1984
Were honours given for crate digging, Cherrystones would probably have a CBE by now: he’s been scrabbling together mixes and solo releases (for Finders Keepers) since the late 90s, goes deep on his NTS radio show; and has big FACT points for his excellent (and still popular) 20 best krautrock records rundown for our own humble organ.
Two years in the making, Critical Mass arrives on the Touch Sensitive label, and, as that extremely broad subtitle suggests, casts its stylistic net far and wide, ranging from the brooding to the boggle-eyed. Truth told, the album takes a while to sputter into gear, sticking with fun but unremarkable New Wave riffage. But, about four tracks in, things suddenly swerve off-road and the set picks up enormously. Favourite discoveries: Transmitters’ bloodshot cover of Sonny & Cher’s ‘The Beat Goes On’; Bamboo Zoo’s jalopy-rock; The Flowerpot Men’s ‘UG’, which growls like a napping Smaug; and, best of all, Chandra’s brilliantly snotty ‘Kate’ – a bitchy high-school rant that plays like Mean Girls by way of X-Ray Spex.
The Black Death
This is one of my favourite releases to date from Stephen O’Malley’s arresting/confounding Ideologic Organ label. Lars Pedersen’s When project is mercurial, shifting between krautrock and prog, and 1992’s The Black Death is his fourth album, a sound collage-cum-audio drama documenting the great Norwegian plague of 1349. It’s safe to say it’s not one for the lovers, but it is perplexing and evocative.
The Black Death is best described as creepy pastoral: Norwegian folk melodies continually recur, and fiddles and accordion are constants throughout. Pedersen’s cut’n’paste approach is gnomic and oblique, stitching together churning voices, stormtrooper footsteps, industrial percussion, twanging rubber bands, pretty electronic interludes and gurglesong. The resulting album isn’t easy to categorise, but it’s reminiscent of Ghédalia Tazartès, Nocturnal Emissions, or, for a more recent parallel, Ben Frost’s snarling ambient.
This remastered edition comes with bundled drawings, essays and interviews, which flesh out Pederson’s medieval hellscape. According to Ideologic Organ, the album gained a quiet following amongst some of black metal’s biggest players, including the notorious Burzum – and although its sonic strategies are very different to the church-burners, the stench of death hangs heavy.
5. Tools You Can Trust
Working and Shopping
(Burka For Everybody)
Sniffing for truffles across post-punk mp3 blogs a few years ago, I came across Manchester’s Tools You Can Trust, a Peel-approved two-piece making classic itch-you-can’t-scratch post-punk. Having tracked down their 1983 7” ‘Working And Shopping’, I hit a wall – so it’s a pleasure to see a proper archival reissue for the group, courtesy of the fabulously named Spanish label Burka For Everybody.
Made up of Rob Ward (vocals, tape manipulation) and Ben Stedman (bongos, tapes), Tools You Can Trust made music that’s taut, fraught and ready to blow. Working and Shopping is a grab-bag affair, pulling together material from four different mid-‘80s 7”s and assorted Peel sessions. The general tone is a sort of ghostly industrial rockabilly – think a Mancunian Cramps schooled on Hannett rather than Haley. It’s the manic percussion playing that gives these tracks their real character, though: ‘Blaze of Shame’ and ‘A Knock For The Young’ are full-on Stomp workouts, and ‘Messy Body Thrust’ lives up to the promise of its title. Invigorating stuff.
4. Bernard Fèvre
Disco Club; Suspense / Cosmos 2043
(Lo Recordings; Sound Obsession)
It’s almost a decade since the Black Devil Disco Club legend was born. Apparently discovered by Rephlex’s PPRoy in a fleamarket, Bernard Fèvre’s 1978 EP was filleted and released across a series of 12”s from the label in 2004. It was the avant-disco equivalent of finding Richard III under a Leicester carpark – a stunningly prescient collection of kohl-eyed disco that sounded entirely in keeping with the death disco doing the rounds at the time (cue the predictable carping about whether Fèvre was another Aphex Twin pseudonym).
Lo’s reissue marks the EP’s first release as a complete entity, with all the tracks in their original sequence. Described by Fèvre as “Phantasmo-psychedelic” music, Disco Club is self-evidently a classic, playing like Joe Meek manning the controls at Studio 54. Lo’s reissue drive also brings two earlier Fèvre LPs to light. 1975’s Suspense is an OST for a non-existent film, and has some of the hokey spryness of Dick Hyman or Mort Garson – enjoyable, but far from essential. 1977’s Cosmos 2043, meanwhile, is much a better – a strong collection of sci-fi themed library music, which, save a few moments of excess perkiness, offers plenty of evocative analogue synth-work (standout ‘Earth Message’ was sampled on Chemical Brother’s ‘Got Glint’). All albums are remastered by Fèvre himself.
3. David Shea
By 1993, turntable artist and John Zorn collaborator David Shea had already released a slew of records, but Prisoner – salvaged here by Lawrence English’s Room40 imprint – is one of the most significant works in his catalogue. Inspired by the iconic 1960s TV series/headfuck The Prisoner, the album was originally devised as full ensemble work based on each episode of the series. The final record is actually much more diverse than that, plundering sonic material from an array of 60s spy thrillers.
In keeping with Shea’s modus operandi, it fuses samples and found sound with live instrumentation. The results are broadly divisible into two categories – blats of noise abruptly interrupted by sampled screams, pistol-fire and spy patter; or rhythmic tattoos, stitched together from soundtrack recordings and anchored by live percussion. Highly recommended to anyone with a taste for the scores of David Lynch, The Books’ magpie psych-pop, or the nightmare jazz of Bohren und der Club of Gore. Given the subject matter, it was tempting to put this at No. 6 on this list – but it’s just too good.
2. Pita and General Magic
Fridge Trax Plus
Pita and General Magic’s Fridge Trax 12” was the first release on Mego, and it’s a pretty good case study for where Editions Mego finds itself 20 years later: forensic, confounding, quietly mischievous, and unlikely to ever trouble the tracklist of a Buddha Bar compilation.
Produced by Peter Rehberg and duo General Magic, Fridge Trax Plus – the Fridge Trax 12” bundled with the group’s 1995 LP Live and Final Fridge – boasts a backstory that, in a different era, might have landed the trio a slot on I’ve Got A Secret. Microphones were placed in fridges, with the collaborators then building tracks around their harvested sounds. For sure, some of this music sounds like it’s been scraped from the back of a SMEG, but genre-play is the order of the day: see the broken-back techno of ‘Shuffle Fridge’, the scatty digital boogie of ‘Final Fridge’, and ‘Thaw Fridge’, which sounds like Pita and co are chipping away at your skull from the inside. It’s unconventional fun, full of mischievous polyrhythms and neat production tricks – high austerity with a wink and a nudge.
1. Alice Coltrane
What made Universal Consciousness FACT’s third favourite album of the 1970s? A crack team of legendary players (including Ornette Coleman and Jack DeJohnette) certainly helped, but the album’s prime virtue is its complete disregard for genre; it’s as accessible to students of psych-rock, New Age and early electronics as those with a free jazz schooling. That’s not a unique claim of course (look at On The Corner, or Coleman’s own Science Fiction), but something about Universal Consciousness – a scrimmage of trilling organs, spirited percussion and emphatic good cheer – is particularly enchanting.
Universal Consciousness is a watershed album for Coltrane, offering a vastly expanded instrumental palette (strings and organ feature for the first time) and a richer and more sumptuous feel than her previous records. ‘Arrangements’ seems a clunky word for Coltrane’s compositions, because these tracks rarely feel ‘arranged’. Instead, they play like profusions of spontaneous feeling – raptures, sung in tongues (from the loose-limbed, anxious ‘Battle At Armageddon’ through to the cosmic grandeur of ‘Hare Krishna’).
If ever there’s a record to benefit from a crack remaster job, it’s probably this one. Superior Viaduct’s edition marks the album’s first ever vinyl reissue; no bonus goodies, but they’re not missed. And in a mark of SV’s continuing quality control, two other LPs from the label come recommended too – Je Ne Connais, the latest in their Brigitte Fontaine reissue run, and ZNR’s (r)ambling 1975 LP Barricade 3.