Cassie, vintage disco and Radiophonic electronics: July’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 favorite reissues and retrospectives of the last month.
This month Mikey IQ Jones again takes the reins, bringing us a selection of rediscovered gems ranging from sizzling NYC disco and funk to one of this era’s finest R&B offerings.
10. Various Artists
Sources: The SAM Records Anthology
SAM Records was an iconic New York City soul and funk label that established itself with the release of Doris Duke’s anthemic single ‘Woman Of The Ghetto’ in 1975, and evolved into one of NYC’s most consistent disco and boogie music sources until its demise in 1983. Harmless Records continues its excellent series of Sources label anthologies (previous instalments include Sleeping Bag and Easy Street Records) with this three-disc overview of highlights by the best label ever to emerge from Long Island City, and it’s pretty much all killer, no filler.
None of these songs were bona fide pop hits in their time, but many of them were legit NYC and UK dancefloor fillers that hit the upper reaches of the soul and disco charts, and plenty have also provided ample sample fodder over the years, from Vicky D’s ‘This Beat Is Mine’ and Gary’s Gang’s ‘Let’s Lovedance Tonight’ to Mike & Brenda Sutton’s ‘Don’t Let Go Of Me (Grip My Hips)’ and Scandal’s ‘I Wanna Do It’. The SAM catalogue has always been a consistent source of quality tuneage at an affordable price for funk/boogie diggers, and this Sources set provides a perfect introduction to their still-vital sound, echoes of which can be heard in the music of Dam-Funk, Julio Bashmore, Onra, and the PPU stable.
9. Marie Et Les Garçons
Marie Et Les Garçons
Gonzaï Records have shown promise as one of the best new reissue labels with an opening salvo of esoteric and quality selections by some of France’s most intriguing punk and experimental artists. In fact, their long-overdue reissue of Besombes-Rizet’s Pôle album would have been near the top of this month’s column had they not committed the colossal and baffling blunder of editing the original 2LP set down to one record (though the complete album is available via the bonus download, there’s no excuse for not pressing it all up on wax, guys). Thankfully, they’ve done no such thing with their excellent looking and sounding reissue of the sole LP by Lyon punks Marie Et Les Garçons, who take my personal prize for one of the best album sleeves ever with this release.
Less a proper full-length than an anthology of the short-lived band’s complete recorded output, the eponymous album collects the group’s two singles and a few lost NYC studio sessions (produced by none other than John Cale) on side A, while the B-side features a well-recorded 1977 live set. The group manage to fuse together the stark, arty minimalism of Pink Flag-era Wire with the sweet yé-yé pop stylings of France Gall and Jacques Dutronc, making for a unique fusion of confrontational avant stylism and easily digestible accessibility. That they found themselves on labels like Ze and Celluloid at the time made perfect sense, and after years of fetching collector prices nearing triple digits, it’s great to see this one back on the racks at an affordable price.
8. Alan Jefferson
Trunk Records are known for a discography filled with rather off-kilter, off-the-cuff DIY oddities, but even for Trunk, this one’s a doozy. Galactic Nightmare is a 1984 “epic space adventure” recorded by a bloke calling himself Alex From Hull who, inspired by hearing War Of The Worlds, took it upon himself to record his own self-penned, self-produced, and self-distributed cosmic opus.
Originally offered as a C90 cassette with poster, printed story, and some fantastic artwork (also drafted by Jefferson), Galactic Nightmare struck a chord with Jonny Trunk, who offers up the first vinyl edition of this curious artifact, which somehow refracts the camp pop musical aesthetics of the Rocky Horror Picture Show through an 8-bit video game prism, delivering echoes of Sparks and R Stevie Moore or his contemporary acolyte Ariel Pink, as though all of them decided to record an audiobook or radio play together.
In fact, fans of both Sparks and Pink would be wise to grab this, as it’s a treasure trove of precisely the kinds of catchy AM weirdness that the LA-based pop auteurs each dream of regularly. This one’s definitely for the more adventurous heads out there, or those who dig the concepts of “outsider” albums and the like; special cheers go out to Trunk for reproducing all of the impressive and truly committed artwork, inserts, and tchotchkes included with the original. Definitely the oddball of the bunch this month.
7. Roger Damawuzan & Les As Du Benin
Wait For Me
The Hot Casa label has been one of my personal favorite archivists of vintage African dance music of late; their two volumes of Ivory Coast Soul are self-contained parties packaged in gatefold sleeves, and their recent unearthing of a 1977 Cameroonian funk band fronted by a seven-year-old boy proved to be one of the most joyous and straight-up banging albums you’ll hear all year.
Their newest dispatch is the first widely distributed collection of music by Togo-born soul singer Roger Damawuzan, referred to as the “James Brown From Lomé,” who delivers nine tracks of percolating, fiery Afro-funk infused with a sunny streak of harmony underneath its robust horn arrangements, scrapyard percussion, and chicken-scratch guitars. While this isn’t necessarily anything that hasn’t been heard before from any number of African funk and soul reissues, Damawuzan and Les As Du Benin maintain a consistency and variety that never wears thin or blurs together, but instead moves away from JB-inspired grunts and yelps into more nuanced and seductive rumba-anchored dancefloor ruminations, then back into some muppet-voiced Dizzy Gillespieisms. It’s an album that keeps the listener guessing as much as it keeps them grooving.
Microgravity is Geir Jenssen’s first album under his long-running Biosphere alias. It was originally released in 1991, but reached more widespread audiences a year later via its licensing by the Apollo label, who also released Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works around the same time. While the Aphex record still receives seemingly endless praise, Microgravity isn’t to be overlooked. Jenssen is still very much in transition from his work in Bel Canto at this point and has yet to find a truly unique voice, but the album still stands as a classic time capsule, documenting the heights of ambient techno while utilizing many of the ingredients that led to its self-parodying downfall.
This newly remastered edition includes an entire bonus album of supplementary material recorded during the same time period, and honestly, it’s that material that really deserves attention here. It’s cut from a darker cloth than the original album’s more warm and amniotic womblife, instead conjuring spatial vacuums and cosmic comedowns via its chiming pads and skittering rhythms. Self-released by Jenssen as a double-CD or hefty triple-LP set, this one is essential for you post-ravers, ambient astronauts, and spliffed-out beatsmiths.
5. Various Artists
Jóia Rara Vol. 1
(Guerreros de Saudade)
While there have been a handful of recent collections investigating the sounds of boogie funk in late 1970s/early 80s Brazil, Jóia Rara Vol. 1 might be my favorite yet. As the inaugural release by the new Guerreros de Saudade label, it moves away from slick MOR gloss to focus on more Latin jazz- and American funk-influenced productions. There’s pop ambition here to be sure, but these songs explore the aftermath of the Afro-conscious crossroads that artists Jorge Ben, Cassiano, and Tim Maia brought into Brazilian pop music via their highly popular samba-soul hybrids.
The rare jewels highlighted here take that Afro-conscious sound and shift it further into a fusion of P-funk, samba, Steely Dan-ish LA jazz grooves, and a bit of Chic/Motown-inslpired cosmopolitan hustle. The collection also highlights some names relatively unknown outside of Brazilian culture, aiming for deep cut rarities rather than the usual tastemaker-approved vanguards. Those looking for a little variety and international flavor in their grooves want to grab this one post-haste, as it’s one of the best summer soundtracks I’ve heard all year, new or old.
Chicago-based synthesists VCSR were a little-known ensemble who, from 1978-1984, were said to have recorded over 60 reels of tape offering a Middle American take on the kosmische analogue research explored by the likes of Cluster, Conrad Schnitzler and Popol Vuh. Permanent Records have released this gorgeous, hypnotic LP – the first official commercial release by the group – documenting the results of a 1979-1980 session involving VCSR’s mastermind Bil Vermette exploring the possibilities of an Arp-2600, a Rhythm Ace drum machine, a Korg MS-20, and layers of electric organ and guitar tone.
These longform improvisations slowly unravel and float across the stereo field, invoking dreamstates and ambient drifts which balance an exploratory unpredictability with harmonically beautiful majesty. This one’s essential for the analogue fetishists and cosmic jokers out there.
3. Brother Resistance
Rapso Take Over
Australia label Left Ear have dug up this impossibly rare slice of Caribbean funk and early rap by rhythm poet Brother Resistance, whose “Rapso” style fused Trinidadian calypso, Nigerian Afrobeat, and Jamaican chat styles into a deeply soulful conscious masterpiece. It truly sounds like little else of its era, or any other really, save for perhaps Sly & Robbie and Wally Badarou’s iconic work as the Compass Point All Stars.
What’s most surprising is that while each of the key aesthetic ingredients here take prominence in the mix, the album never feels overstuffed or cluttered; in fact, it’s the stripped-down economy of the mix that anchors the album’s quietly propulsive power. Lutalo Masimba’s lyrics take aim at apartheid, Reagan’s “star wars” government initiative, unemployment and homelessness, Union strikes, and much more. While some of the topics may have passed in 2015, the sad truths of injustice and prejudice remain, and Rapso Take Over‘s sociopolitical tropical minimalism still sounds powerful nearly 30 years later. Save yourself the $300-$700+ prices that originals regularly fetch and scoop up this well-crafted reissue.
This is perhaps the one album this week with which most FACT readers will be familiar. Cassie’s 2006 debut was a relatively slept-on record that rode a wave of critical and chart attention thanks to debut single ‘Me & U’, which led to P Diddy offering a deal to distribute and co-finance her productions with producer (and then-lover) Ryan Leslie via Diddy’s Bad Boy imprint. The eponymous album debuted in the US Top 5, but didn’t particularly well, and despite a number of subsequent singles and guest appearances, Cassie failed to follow the album up until a 2013 mixtape inspired by New Jack City finally appeared.
Until now the album has never seen a vinyl release, so UK label Be With Records has done us all a solid with a legitimate 2LP edition which reasserts the album’s cult following and continuing influence (it’s frequently noted by producers like Four Tet, Jamie xx, and many of the Tri Angle Records crew). While Leslie’s shimmering, minimal production emphasizes slinky machine beats and whirring neon synth textures, many of the songs are supplemented by subtle flourishes like droplets of harp, Spanish guitar, and handclaps and fingersnaps, while the songs dance between the borders of R&B, sugary pop confection, and subtle space-age exotica. It was that inability to forcefully assert an identity that perhaps led it to slip through the cracks of longevity, but time has been kind to the album, and this is the perfect opportunity to reassess its playful, modernist beauty.
1. Peter Zinovieff
Electronic Calendar: The EMS Tapes
It can be said without hyperbole that Peter Zinovieff is one of the the most singularly important figures in modern electronic music, up there with Bob Moog, Don Buchla, and Alan Robert Pearlman. As co-founder of the EMS company with Tristram Cary, he was responsible for the manufacture and distribution of the famed VCS3 synthesizer, and as a member of Unit Delta Plus in the mid-1960s with BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, he helped promote the relevance and vitality of electronic music production into mainstream minds.
Electronic Calendar: The EMS Tapes is an invaluable collection – the first, actually – of Zinovieff’s own productions and recordings of electronic music. Curated by Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember (of Spacemen 3 fame) and released via his Space Age label, Electronic Calendar stands as a document of the rapid development of popular electronics equally as important as the early Radiophonic albums or the early INA-GRM documents of musique concrete. Over the course of two discs, the collection moves from heavily academic and almost willfully obtuse abstractions into more classically minded works, flirtations with jazz structure, and even a bit of mutated madrigal.
While we know the VCS3 and its inventor as being the force behind Eno’s Roxy-era weirdness, bringing the intergalactic shadows to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, and breathing life into Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene, Electronic Calendar finally gives us true evidence of this pioneer’s creative mind in situ. A proper gift that is as moving as it is important.