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 a Sun City Girls masterpiece to a true holy grail of soul and R&B.
10. Mike Lundy
Rhythm of Life
(Aloha Got Soul)
Upstart Honolulu-based label Aloha Got Soul has taken on a mission to shine fresh light on the 50th state’s vital funk and R&B scene, which often suffered from distribution woes and a lack of nationwide and worldwide exposure.
After a handful of teaser singles and some excellent distro titles, their debut is a fresh pressing of Mike Lundy’s island fusion soul groover Rhythm Of Life. Long held in high regard among collectors in Japan, where it received a short-lived (and now expensive) remastered CD reissue years back, Lundy’s album is a chill exploration of the same radio-friendly quiet-storm boogie beats practiced by the likes of Earth Wind & Fire, The Isley Brothers, Tower Of Power, and Tim Maia (for those wanting a bit of international comparison).
The record – originally privately pressed and distributed by Lundy himself – coasts on a smooth sunset cruise down long, beach-lined streets, exuding a classiness and slight spiritual bent that’ll go down nice ‘n’ easy for those who dig their soul on the lighter side. No heavy bangers here, just 40-odd minutes of spaced-out, sophisticated slinkiness straight outta Oahu.
9. Various Artists
Slip-Disc: Discoom’s Bombay-London Grooves
Another fledgling organization with a novel concept, the Dishoom Café group has started a label and put together a brilliant compilation of vintage tunes which ably fuse together the beat-group and soul sounds of swinging 1960s London with Indian folk and classical musics, aiming to serve up a satisfying platter which unofficially documents the rich cultural cross-pollination between London and Bombay over generations.
Slip-Disc: Discoom’s Bombay-London Grooves is an eclectic mix of classics and deep cuts, with killer tunes of both an aged and more recent vintage, from Ananda Shankar’s essential Moog-and-sitar-infused hotwiring of the Stones’ ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (IMHO the absolute best version of this tune) and Daptone Records honcho Bill Ravi Harris’ (née Gabriel Roth) stoned modern hashpipe rework of The Meters’ classic ‘Cissy Strut’, to Blossom Dearie’s orchestrated blunt banger ‘I Like London In The Rain’ and Mohammed Rafi & Shankar-Jaikishan’s now-classic Bollywood freakout ‘Jaan Pechaan Ho’.
The album also serves as an unofficial soundtrack to author Sidharth Bhatia’s excellent book India Psychedelic, mapping out the DNA of a culture fusion that has further manifested itself via groups like Cornershop and The Bombay Royal, the latter of whom is also included here. It’s a surprising and delightful collection that’s both an excellent intro for curious neophytes and a stellar soundtrack to any sophisto shindig you’ve got on the calendar.
8. Don Slepian
Tape Recordings 1971-1982
(Vinyl On Demand)
Vinyl On Demand had one hell of a month in November, banging out a massive series of anthologies documenting various synthesists and electronic boffins in American Cassette Culture. While nearly all of those volumes are wonderful – including releases by Marc Barreca, Steve Roach, among many others – one of my personal faves in the series was this compilation of deep, weird, avant-new age excursions by Hawaiian-via-East Coast maestro Don Slepian.
A synth soloist with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra (which already sounds wild enough!), Slepian followed the grand tradition of new age noodlers by releasing a series of DIY cassettes exploring themes of meditation and spiritual expansion in the late 1970s and early 80s. Those tapes featured a number of quietly propulsive dreamscapes stripped of excess syrup, like the sunny flipside to the shadowy ambient textures Cluster explored on Zuckerzeit. The LP is a curious melange of fragrant sonic perfumes and uncluttered minimal machine beats. It’s a highpoint in the VOD Cassette Culture series, and serves as a great introduction to a talent altogether unknown outside of fanatical new age circles.
[NB: The YouTube versions of tracks on this are all lame re-recordings. Buy the record.]
7. Tomo Akikawabaya
Invitation Of The Dead
The reliable Minimal Wave imprint released what stands as one of the crown jewels in their solid discography this month via their long-desired overview of cult Japanese darkwave artist Tomo Akikawabaya. A mysterious singer, producer, and songwriter whose aesthetic takes the regal malaise of prime David Sylvian to its logical endpoint, Akikawabaya’s discography comprises a scant handful of 12″ EPs and doublepacks, each framed in stunning iconic portraits of model Rena Anju.
Those EPs sell for triple-digit sums on the regular, so Minimal Wave has done us a solid and collected a number of highlights from Tomo’s discography across two LPs in their usual classy packaging. While Akikawabaya isn’t particularly breaking new ground here, his dedication to bleakly gothic romanticism adds helpings of heart and soul to the often sterile synthwave universe. This one’s for all of the sensual, moody lovers out there who either aren’t getting any, or just need more.
6. David Lynch & Marek Zebrowski
The Air Is On Fire
While filmmaker and American Magus David Lynch’s world of sound is no stranger to the majority of FACT readers, this new reissue via Sacred Bones and Sunday Best is likely to have slipped under the radar of even his most devoted fans.
Polish Night Music was originally released in 2007 as a now out-of-print CD via the auteur’s own David Lynch Music Company, and stands as one of his most beautiful and crucial soundworks. Recorded in duet with Polish pianist Marek Zebrowski, the double LP features one lengthy piece per side, with Lynch establishing cold, eerie twilight auras via synthesizer and manipulated field recordings. Where his work with Badalamenti explored a fractured take on barroom blues and jazz balladry, Polish Night Music fuses the serrated industrial landscapes of the Eraserhead score with the moonlit meditations of Debussy and Satie’s solo piano etudes.
It’s a slow-moving behemoth that aesthetically winks and nods at the work of Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, whose own catalogue took Lynch and Badalamenti’s work and slowed it to a creeping, dreadful crawl. While Polish Night Music lacks the heavy anchor of Bohren’s molten molasses rhythm section, it’s highly recommended for fans of said group (and if you don’t know Bohren but dig Lynch, seek out their Black Earth album immediately), as well as those who like a bit of aching melody in their dark ambience.
5. Boots For Dancing
The Undisco Kidds
(Athens Of The North)
Boots For Dancing were a ragtag post-punk supergroup of sorts from Edinburgh, who included among their ranks members of Human League, Delta 5, and the Rezillos. During their lifetime, the group only managed to issue three singles, each a jittery hotwire of jagged funk anxiety that never managed to propel the group to higher heights.
Hindsight is always clearer, though, and now we’ve finally got a stellar document of the band’s long-playing potential with The Undisco Kidds, a collection of shelved recordings previously unheard until now. The album’s a total asskicker, featuring a more loose-bootied but no less furious take on the barbed mania perfected by the likes of Josef K during this period, with frontman Dave Carson’s brainy analyses creating a hypothetical alternate punk reality where Mayo Thompson reformed The Red Crayola with all-stars from Postcard Records rather than the Rough Trade heavyweights with whom he surrounded himself.
After last month’s DIY compilation on Optimo, Boots For Dancing deliver a worthy chaser for those still itchy in the drawers for some high-octane punk dance.
4. Rex Ilusivii
In The Moon Cage
Rex Ilusivii was an alias of Serbian composer and producer Mitar Subotić, perhaps best known as Brazilian chillout maestro Suba, the man who “discovered” and produced the debut recordings by Brazilian chanteuse Bebel Gilberto (whose own São Paulo Confessions album was a key document in the world of modern global downtempo beats).
Though he passed away before Bebel’s star rose, what many don’t know is that Subotić had released a number of beautiful, deep recordings as Rex Ilusivii (‘The King Of Illusions’) prior to his time in Brazil. Many of these recordings are anthologized on the breathtaking In The Moon Cage, the inaugural release by German label Offen Music.
The Ilusivii material is an altogether different beast than the downtempo sophisto-sounds on which he built his reputation, more akin to the likes of Muslimgauze, Arthur Russell circa ‘In The Light Of The Miracle’, and late-period Coil, if one can imagine such an offbeat collusion. Cyclical loops of Middle Eastern vocal chants, thumping basslines, woodblock percussive knocks, sampled nature sounds, pitch-bent synth frequencies, and gentle acoustic strings all intertwine over extended runtimes, conjuring dervish dances that nod to the Fourth World hallucinations of Hassell and Eno as well as Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark series.
This is one of the more surprising and unexpected archival excavations of the new age scene so popular amongst heads currently, but here’s hoping that Offen continue their catalogue with further surprises of this quality.
3. Sun City Girls
Torch Of The Mystics
Sun City Girls have, both directly and indirectly, had a hand in helping the western underground discover all manner of esoteric sounds from the far reaches of the globe, both via their own unwieldy discography and long-running series of “Carnival Folklore Resurrection” CDs in the early 2000s, and the members’ respective solo endeavors and label ventures (the lauded and controversial Sublime Frequencies among them).
But no other album comes as close to single-handedly defining the group’s modus operandi in both global genre-hopping fluidity and perverse surrealist fuckery than their 1990 opus Torch Of The Mystics. The trio throw buckets of surf rock, spaghetti western soundtracks, psychedelic meanderings, Middle Eastern opium balladry, free jazz, and desert blues (of both the Arizona and Tuareg varieties) against their cave walls, and quite surprisingly, nearly all of it sticks.
Torch Of The Mystics often receives high marks in the group’s catalogue due to the strength of the playing, recording, arrangement, and musicianship, and while many spoke of the album in such hushed, mythic tones for so long due to its frustrating unavailability, Abduction has finally righted this wrong via a lovely vinyl reissue.
In 2015, the album still sounds untethered to any particular era, and astonishingly sounds more vital and open to appreciation now than it did upon its original 1990 release. This is an essential document of American underground multiculturalism, a recording of a band of wildmen trying with all of their might to break the judgmental shackles of punk/DIY Americana (yet still remaining simultaneously bugged out and chill about the whole thing).
2. Nuno Canavarro
Portuguese composer Nuno Canavarro’s epochal 1988 Plux Quba LP has long held mythic status among avid listeners and practitioners of the contemporary abstract electronic fields; it has stood as a primary sonic influence on the likes of Mouse On Mars/Microstoria, Oval, and Jim O’Rourke, who started his now-defunct Moikai label in 1998 to reissue Plux Quba himself after discovering the LP in Europe. After again falling unavailable for 15 years, Drag City has pressed up a fresh reissue of this masterpiece of microtonal electronic pointillism, lucid tape-splice dreamscapes, and stuttering ululations.
What’s so astonishing about the LP is that it seems to foreshadow the minutely-detailed, texturally lucid ambient dreams of Fennesz circa Endless Summer, Boards Of Canada’s Music Has The Right to Children period, or Aphex’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, while also nodding backwards to the pioneering work of stalwart Lovely Music composers Robert Ashley and Blue Gene Tyranny. That being said, Plux Quba stands in a class all its own, an album simultaneously possessing womblike warmth and unsettlingly fragmented detailing.
It’s difficult to put into words an album that really doesn’t sound like it was made on this planet, but rather a surrealistic mutation of it. This album is to ambient music what Jorge Luis Borges’s The Library Of Babel is to literature; in fact, Plux Quba could stand as the closest possible aural soundtrack to exploring the library depicted in Borges’s famous story. Their worlds are similarly labyrinthine, and overflowing with overwhelming amounts of information, yet in the end, both are finite and complex enough for the human mind to attempt to fathom. Could I possibly give higher praise to an album than this? Seek it out by whatever means necessary.
1. Gloria Ann Taylor
Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing
While there have been quite a few solid contenders for the top spot in this month’s column, this one gets the crown not only for the staggering quality of the songs contained within, but for the sheer insanity of how fucking long it actually took for this record to see the light of day legitimately.
Gloria Ann Taylor’s ‘Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing’ 12″ has become a ludicrous white whale of a holy grail record, fetching four-figure sums on the secondhand market for original copies. Having been bootlegged a few times by increasingly dubious prospectors (no joke – Discogs seem to have an auto-reject button tailor-made to ban sales of this record if it ain’t legit), the folks at Ubiquity/Luv’N’Haight have finally managed to not only re-release the cuts found on the original 7″ and 12″ singles, but to unearth a full album’s worth of material from the same sessions.
Bearing the same title as the elusive dancefloor deity track, Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing is an open wound of heartbroken psychedelic soul that’s honestly less disco-friendly than the 12″ mix would lead you to believe, but no less staggering in its epic bombast. It hews closely to the widescreen orchestral psych-soul vistas perfected by Charles Stepney’s Rotary Connection project, though Taylor’s gospel-hued vocals sit more comfortably compared to the struggles Rotary sometimes had in finding a suitable setting for Minnie Riperton’s stratosphere-shredding pipes.
Taylor’s story is both staggering and saddening, seeing her rub shoulders with James Brown, record with Bootsy Collins (and his brother Catfish), get nominated for a Grammy, and start her own label, all before walking away from the music business for good. This reissue collects damn near everything she cut to tape with that incredible voice, along with in-depth liner notes and a lovely packaging job, so if you give even the slightest bit of a rat’s ass about music on a soul/funk/R&B/blues tangent, this is pretty much essential listening, folks.