Coil, Laraaji and first wave punk: October’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.
Mikey IQ Jones thumbs through a selection of rediscovered gems, from scrappy post-punk to homemade instruments to science fiction dancehall and beyond.
The recordings initiated by Coil in 1992 to follow up their classic Love’s Secret Domain LP have become the stuff of legend in the decades since their subsequent shelving, becoming to the group’s discography what SMiLE had been for The Beach Boys: a glimpse of what could have been, surrounded by an ever-increasing (and incorrect) number of myths and legends. Though considerable portions of the music from these sessions were later reshaped by Peter Christopherson as The Ape Of Naples and The New Backwards in 2005 and 2008 respectively, these original versions have only ever been available as bootlegs of varying degrees of quality until now.
This new release of the sessions via Cold Spring provides an important gateway between the ragged glory of Coil’s early years and the elemental majesty of their later period. These songs (first recorded as demos for Torso but then expanded in Trent Reznor’s Nothing Studios for prospective release via Reznor’s imprint) see the group flexing newly toned muscle via Christopherson and Drew McDowall’s electronic firestorms and the strengthened prowess of Jhon Balance’s vocals. Weaving together a tapestry of liminal hymns and shuddering techno pulsations, the album’s release remains entangled in controversy, but nevertheless provides a fascinating time capsule of a period of transition.
Special mention must also be made to an additional series of Coil reissues released via Threshold Archives, which delivers expanded editions of Coil’s assorted single and EP releases, each containing copious supplemental music from the respective single’s era of release. In short, it’s a good time to be a Coil fan; while the pains and legal politics enmeshed within the group’s archives may not see a clear resolution any time soon, we should be thankful to see any of this breathing life at all.
9. Beach Bullies
We Rule The Universe
Captured Tracks/Omnian Music Group initiate a fresh batch of reissues via their new Manufactured Recordings imprint with this excellent slice of obscurist he-said/she-said bedsit pop by The Beach Bullies, a project of songwriter James A Smith. A colleague and contemporary of Soft Boys frontman Robyn Hitchcock, the Bullies record intermingles the stripped drum machine melancholy of Young Marble Giants with a more energetic restlessness closer to The Cleaners From Venus and Hitchcock’s own work of the period, or more acutely, that of The Vaselines, whose own “fuck off” laissez-faire attitude is comparable – though for my money the Bullies’ strain of weirdness trumps that of the Scottish duo.
We Rule The Universe isn’t necessarily a record that will change your life, but it makes a strong case for the trickle-down cultural cache of DIY messthetics in pop music. Reissued for the first time since its 1980 pressing, and packaged with an additional album’s worth of previously unreleased demos and shelved tracks, this is a sleeper hit made for those rainy days when you’re restless as hell and can’t sit still. Alongside additional reissues of Momus’s brilliant neofolk debut Circus Maximus and a complete anthology of 80s kiwi dream-poppers The Wild Poppies, Manufactured Recordings are off to a great start, and the best is still to come from their catalogue.
8. Various Artists
[Cease & Desist] DIY! Cult Classics from the Post-Punk Era (1978-1982)
Along with the aforementioned Beach Bullies release, Optimo Music further carry the torch for vintage UK DIY with their ragged and thrilling compilation, Cease & Desist DIY!: Cult Classics From The Post-Punk Era. Bringing together 16 impossibly rare 7″ singles from the UK’s fertile 1978-82 post-punk period, Cease & Desist… showcases the “anything goes” culture clashing that breathed new blood into the rather stale heart of the punk scene. These songs are brilliant examples of how deep a well of influences was being tapped for inspiration during this transitional period, from the library music synth boogie of Dorothy’s ‘Softness’ and People In Control’s Burundi hymnal ‘When It’s War’ to the loose-limbed free jazz funk of Tesco Bombers’ ‘Break The Ice At Parties’ and noirish electro-dub of The Distributors’ ‘Never Never’.
Give three cheers to Optimo’s JD Twitch for this stellar snapshot of what he describes as “music that doesn’t try to fit in a particular genre, that is anti-canonical and doesn’t care what else is going on in music at that time… [It] takes risks and is full of imagination and ideas that may or may not make any logical sense.” He’s also just saved you a few hundred dollars on Discogs, so there’s that too. Considering that these aesthetics continue today more powerfully than ever thanks to Soundcloud, Bandcamp, et al – where a producer, MC, or band can record and release in record time – this is essential listening, a guidebook on how to channel that energy into something unique and powerful.
7. Ellen Fullman
The Long String Instrument
American composer and instrument builder Ellen Fullman has produced incredible site-specific sound installations for over 30 years, performing what she dubs the Long String Instrument. A mesmerizing construction both visually and sonically, the LSI explores the resonant acoustic spaces of its locations via the rubbing of dozens of metallic strings approximately 70 feet in length with rosin-coated fingers. The subsequent clusters of overtones and rhythmic, reverberating frequencies can sound akin to Indian classical music, the low rumble of a giant pipe organ, or even like standing inside a grand piano of mammoth proportions. In short, the experience is both mesmerizing and physical.
While the LSI is best experienced in a live setting, Fullman has on occasion released recorded documents of her performances; the first such release, a 1985 LP named after the LSI, is a masterwork in sound art and drone, slowly unfurling and enveloping the listener in rich, deep beds of tone that are at times accompanied by another of Fullman’s creations, the Water Drip Drum. Truly in a class of its own, possessing a sound that has been oft imitated but never truly duplicated, Superior Viaduct’s welcome reissue of The Long String Instrument is hugely recommended to those who feast on drone and modern minimalism, raga, and even New Age psychedelia.
6. Various Artists
Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics
I’ve often written of Adrian Sherwood’s catalogue on his On-U Sound label, arguably the most gritty and fertile source of contemporary dub and a label that helped push forward dub’s importance outside of Jamaican soundsystem culture. While nearly any individual LP released during the label’s early to mid-1980s halcyon days could be considered a solid introduction to Sherwood’s universe, the rotating cast of players and vocalists who orbited the On-U axis makes for an intimidatingly eclectic discography. Noted DJ/producer/designer Trevor Jackson has done listeners and neophytes a solid with his new collection, Science Fiction Dancehall Classics, which provides one of the most concise and engrossing overviews of what was arguably Sherwood’s most fertile creative period. Jackson curates 3LPs and 2CDs worth of Sherwood’s more outré moments, highlighting the increasing use of synthesizers and drum machines, copious layers of heavy electronic processing, and a more avant-garde aesthetic which serrates and strengthens the dub DNA of On-U.
The compilation also features a number of rare and previously unheard cuts, including the recorded debut of Massive Attack vocalist Shara Nelson and a wicked electro-rap banger by a teenage Neneh Cherry, made in collaboration with Sherwood and noted UK improviser Steve Beresford, then fresh off stints in The Slits and The Flying Lizards. All bases are covered, from heavy roots lamentations and industrial smackdowns to world music collusions and post-punk poetry. At the risk of hyperbole, I can say that Science Fiction Dancehall Classics is necessary listening for just about anyone who reads FACT; it trickled down to just about everything we cover here, rap music included. If you only buy one thing off of this list, readers, this should probably be the one.
Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance
The work of American instrumentalist and ambient/meditative music pioneer Laraaji has seen a deservedly increased amount of attention in the last few years, with much of his archive seeing fresh reissues for a new generation of listeners who were too young to know the first time around. While many of his early works are now available again, his breakthrough album, produced by Brian Eno and released on Editions EG via Eno’s Ambient imprint, had remained conspicuously unavailable amid all this renewed attention. The Glitterbeat label, previously responsible for an essential reissue of Jon Hassell and Eno’s Fourth World 1: Possible Musics album, has finally rectified this problem with a new edition of Laraaji’s breathtaking Day Of Radiance.
Recorded after Eno had allegedly discovered Laraaji playing his amplified zither in New York City’s Washington Square Park, the album features five spellbinding performances subtly treated electronically by both Gordon and Eno; the resulting clouds of resonating tone offer a gorgeous but somewhat surprising detour from the hypnagogic ethereality of the other albums in the Ambient series. Laraaji’s percussive attack on the album’s first side (‘The Dance’) is closer in approach to the likes of Charlemagne Palestine’s dense clouds of piano overtone, though the higher register of Laraaji’s instrument gives these pieces a more euphoric pulse. On the flip (‘Meditation’), Eno’s role is easier to discern, and Laraaji slips closer to that floating lucidity explored on the first two Ambient albums, touring through Middle Eastern dunescapes and the shimmer of summer humidity. It’s one of Laraaji’s best albums, and stands tall as one of Eno’s best collaborations/curations — he’s never really produced anything quite like it since.
4. A Kostis
The Jail’s a Fine School
Kostas Bezos was a vital part of Greek pop culture and counterculture in the 1930s as a journalist, composer, singer, cartoonist, actor, and guitarist. His recordings of Greek rebetika music in 1930 and ’31 — released under the pseudonyms A. Kostis and K. Kostis — have become recognized as some of the finest examples of the musical style available for contemporary ears. Originally available via a series of now rare 78rpm discs, and occasionally compiled on CD in recent years, those epochal recordings have until now never been available in one place, let alone on vinyl. The Jail’s A Fine School serves as the inaugural release for the new Olvido label (itself an offshoot of Mississippi Records), and hot damn: what way to enter the room. Freshly remastered for this release by Grammy-winning archivist and engineer Michael Graves, the twelve songs on The Jail… are a raw document of what could best be described as Byzantine blues; Kostis’s playing here is intricately percussive, weaving long threads into smoke-addled tapestries, while lyrically depicting an underbelly of hash dens occupied by knife wielders, ex-cons, and pickpockets. He’s singing these tunes much in the way a figure like Randy Newman satirizes his subjects via character study; he’s tight enough with the subject matter and roots of the culture to pass as legitimate, but his résumé as a multimedia renaissance man may have been one of the reasons he recorded these songs under pseudonyms.
Special mention must be made regarding this outstanding collection’s packaging. Inside the striking sleeve, you’ll find a massive book detailing Bezos’s life and the many confusing mysteries that surround these sessions, as well as lyrics in the original Greek and English, photos, clippings, and more. It’s a fabulous example of a reissue done as well as can be, where everything comes together perfectly, satiating both the seasoned collector and educating the newbie.
The lone eponymous LP by German punks Pack is, for my money, one of the best first wave punk albums ever released. Recorded inside an abandoned war bunker in 1978 by a trio of seasoned vets including frontman Jörg Evers, bassist in prog-psych troopers Embryo and later of Amon Duul II (and now known as the head of German publishing monolith GEMA, who aren’t terribly fond of paying royalties – becoming a whole different kind of punk, as it were…), the record delivers absolutely shredding tunes, sung in spittle-flecked English with maximum attitude, which are somehow as catchy as Buzzcocks while stripping the pop sugar out of the mix.
Packing stomps, shouts, grunts, and growls from the opening chord until the last cymbal crash, its lunkheaded force remains as undiluted and thrilling today as it did at the end of the 70s. Reissued by Canada’s Ugly Pop label, this one’s a limited edition, so if you wanna get rowdy and raucous, act fast. If you’re gonna shred, you’d best be doing it as dumb as possible.
2. Mecanica Popular
Que Sucede con el Tiempo?
Andy Votel, Doug Shipton, and Sean Canty of Demdike Stare’s always-solid Dead Cert imprint brings forth one of the best reissues in its catalogue to date with 1984’s Spanish avant-industrial Fourth World brain-melter Que Sucede con el Tiempo? by Mecanica Popular. An offshoot project with ties to Finis Africae, Mecanica’s opus delivers an impressive bricolage constructed solely with tape loops, an ARP synth, and a table of nonmusical objects for a rhythmic, leftfield fusion of cosmic synthesis and clumsy beat science.
There are many reference points here, from Jon Hassell’s harmonized trumpet work to Craig Leon’s epic Nommos, but what’s most thrilling is how it manages to echo similar explorations by the likes of Kerry Leimer’s Savant project, This Heat’s ’24 Track Loop’, and even at times foreshadow the cubist concrète funk of Actress’s Splazsh LP. With nary a duff track in the sequence, Dead Cert set the bar high for whatever they’ve got up next. This one’s a lost classic that appeals to the leftfield avant travelers and the rock-hard beatheads alike.
1. Doug Hream Blunt
My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt
Doug Hream Blunt is a San Francisco-by-way-of-Arkansas musician whose story falls into that beloved “almost too weird and too good to be true” category: he took up music lessons in the 80s at the age of 35 after years of obsessive record collecting, formed a band with his fellow students and his girlfriend, and self-released a series of EPs and singles featuring his maverick dilettante funk. Those records made the rounds among the cognoscenti, and now, thanks to Luaka Bop, we’ve got My Name Is Doug Hream Blunt, a full-length anthology of Blunt’s tropical bedroom boogie. Recognized in recent years as a favorite of the likes of Ariel Pink, his biggest champion has been Dean Blunt of Hype Williams, who went so far as to brand himself in Doug Hream’s honor and then recorded a sluggish, mesmerizing cover of DHB’s “hit”, ‘Gentle Persuasion’.
Blunt’s lyrics walk in loops of everyman surreality, and his grooves come anchored by slurred, warbling keyboards and skittering breaks. His voice delivers a soft, stoned croon sweetened by street corner sipping and tripping, and he manages to mutate Balearic beach pop, Northern soul stompers, and even a bit of Arthur Lee’s Haight-Ashbury rock fuzz. The album is both charming and disorienting, masking bleak lyrical concerns with upbeat and cheerful energy. After the heavyweight William Onyeabor excavations that Luaka Bop delivered last year, they had a tough act to follow, but they’ve hit it hard with this one. Out of everything on the list this month, this one’s got the power to win over even the most difficult heads in the crowd. Take Blunt’s advice: fall into a groove, and then just move.