Susumu Yokota, Harry Bertoia and noisy jungle: February’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 the late Susumu Yokota to a forgotten masterpiece perfect for Burial fans and one of the most essential collections of ambient music ever released.
10. The Durutti Column
Amigos Em Portugal
The new Durutti label kicks off with the first vinyl reissue of Amigos Em Portugal, a 1983 Durutti Column album released in small quantities on fledgling Portuguese label Fundação Atlântica. DC mastermind Vini Reilly had supposedly sent the label a number of tapes he’d been working on for a possible EP release, and they loved what they heard so much they ended up releasing a full album.
Stylistically, Amigos Em Portugal is as an aesthetic precursor to Durutti’s lauded Without Mercy album, which saw Reilly exploring more classically-oriented extended movements and suites. The sketches on Amigos are essentially just that, works-in-progress (in many cases for songs he reworked for later albums) which feature Reilly augmenting his intricate guitar playing with creeping drum machine rhythms and elegiac piano motifs, with longtime DC percussionist Bruce Mitchell accompanying Reilly on side two.
Amigos bridges the gap between Reilly’s early minimalist years on Factory and the more ambitious pieces he’d begin flirting with on the lost Short Stories For Pauline album, also recorded in 1983 and unearthed in recent years via LTM/Factory Benelux. While these aren’t the best entry points into Reilly’s beautiful discography, they serve as key documents for the composer and dexterous instrumentalist, and come most highly recommended to those with an ear for the quieter sides of gothic/post-punk melancholy.
Oren Ambarchi’s new Black Truffle label kicks off with a much-needed reissue of the debut album by long-running UK free improv ensemble AMM. Originally released on Elektra Records (my, how times have changed!), AMMMusic saw the original quintet move away from the jazz- and classical-based sounds of their previous pedigrees and into a more open and democratic approach to listening and responding. While each member focuses on exploring one or two instruments – guitar, upright bass, piano, cello, percussion, and saxophone are the core elements at work – the group also utilized contact microphones, shortwave radio frequencies, and other electric and electronic means of sound production, moving into a blurred, amorphous zone which flirted with the ingredients of electroacoustic music, free jazz, chamber compositions, electric rock, and even post-Fluxus sound art, while never fully committing to any particular doctrine.
AMMMusic was a hugely influential and important document in the expansion of free improvisation, as players began moving beyond simple practice concepts and into deep listening dialogues and conversations that emphasized the energy of performers rather than a standard repertoire of rhythm and melody. Any record buyer or sound producer who has any interest in experimental/noise/whatever music should hear this album at least once before they die. While the album has long been available on CD over the years thanks to AMM’s own Matchless Recordings label, this is the first time since some oppressively expensive Elektra pressings that anyone has been able to listen on vinyl, restoring the album’s original pop art sleeve design and everything. This is an example of how to properly reissue a record.
8. Tonio Rubio
Tonio Rubio is a French master musician, a titan of the bass guitar who played on a number of heavy sessions throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, most notably Jean-Claude Vannier’s epic L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches and various library sessions for composers Eddie Warner and Janko Nilovic. Rhythms was his only solo album, released on French library music label Tele Music, and hot damn is it a killer.
Featuring a number of slow-burning, jazz-informed psychedelic soul instrumentals, the album ends up playing like a lost Roy Ayers session fragmented through Vannier’s looking glass sound world. Yes, it’s that good, and until this recent reissue by Fifth Dimension it was virtually unobtainable and prohibitively expensive. Even if you don’t fuck with library records much, this one holds weight among listeners who also dig the likes of Madlib’s jazz-influenced works, as it’s chock full of breaks and cool, velvety textures. A word of advice, though: don’t sample Rubio, it’s been done to death. Dig this one for your personal enjoyment and feel the rhythms.
7. Susumu Yokota
Japanese producer, composer, house DJ, and beloved ambient alchemist sadly passed away last year, and his untimely death left a void that is unlikely to be filled. Much of his catalogue has been unavailable across formats, but he’s been particularly underrepresented on vinyl. Thankfully, The Leaf Label has pressed up a fresh batch of his stellar 1999 masterpiece Sakura in limited 2LP quantities in celebration of the label’s 20th anniversary.
At risk of sounding hyperbolic, Sakura is a high-water mark in the ambient world. Throughout, Yokota brings together an alternative personal history of ambient music, from the aquatic tones of Eno and Harold Budd to Haruomi Hosono’s synthetic Eastern court music; from the minimalist hypnotism of Steve Reich to the cosmopolitan Fourth World melodies of Seigen Ono. It’s an album quite unlike any other, often imitated but never duplicated, sprinkling layers of weightless electric piano and soft synth pads over finely detailed gardens of texture. If you’re new to Yokota’s discography, this is where you begin, and if you’ve not heard these gorgeous sounds before, you’re in for a treat.
6. The Tapes
Selected Works 1982-1992
Ecstatic unleashes a thrilling double album anthology of music by Italian post-punk/industrial stalwarts The Tapes, collecting 10 years of beautifully serrated textures and nervous clockwork rhythms. Recorded mostly on cassette, utilizing an arsenal of half-functioning gear, the pieces are shockingly vibrant despite their roots in a rather grey scene. Siblings Giancarlo and Roberto Drago get serious mileage out of minimal means here, expanding on the Morse code languages first dispatched by Konrad Becker on his classic Monotonprodukt LPs. They add a curious sense of Dream Machine/Third Mind expansion too, as though Burroughs and Gysin were cutting up the cinematic worlds of Fellini and Pasolini in one schizophrenic, mutant whole.
These recordings move away from the stereotype of post-Gristle industrial wastelands and into something like a hopeful escape. The bulk of these pieces were made in the wake of extended periods of political and domestic strife and terror, so the balance of postmodern paranoia and romantic escapism makes total sense. The record easily ranks as one of the most consistent industrial tape scene collections of recent memory, and the aesthetic unity connecting 10 years of material is testament to the duo’s talents and creativity.
Chances are you haven’t yet heard of French composer, filmmaker and pianist Christophe Chassol, but that’s likely to change this year as he has been working with Frank Ocean on the latter’s highly anticipated second album, hopefully due before the planet collapses or the industry totally crumbles. Chassol himself has released three stunning albums of original music which seamlessly blend the worlds of minimalist composition, environmental field recording, modern jazz, and even a bit of international folk music.
His records each focus on the sights and sounds of a particular nation or region, and his second album Indiamore, first released on CD in 2013 with an accompanying hour-long film, is finally being issued on vinyl for the first time via his longtime label Tricatel. Throughout the record, Chassol cuts up and samples his own film travelogue documenting a trip to Calcutta, harmonizing speech loops and building upon musical motifs with piano and orchestral arrangements, but never losing sight of rhythm and dance. With a background as both a filmmaker and a composer, scoring horror films and the like, his music is prime for discovery among those who find themselves drooling over Death Waltz and Waxwork reissues, as well as being inspirational fodder for eager listeners hyped on Frank and Kanye. Chassol doesn’t sound like any of these artists himself, but he’s bringing a vital new strain of creativity to their worlds that’s not to be ignored.
These albums have been personal favorites for years (his Ultrascores collection is also a great starting point), but the uninitiated have no excuse now. Get in here while the going’s good, because he’s starting to blow up.
4. Third Eye Foundation
Matt Elliott’s work as Third Eye Foundation has for too long been underrated and unheralded. His early fusion of dense shoegaze guitar textures and skittering breakbeats foreshadowed the kind of noirish, emotionally fraught urban hellscapes that Burial fans weep over, yet the Bristol producer’s work has never been recognized as a forerunner. With the rise of labels like Tri Angle and Modern Love bringing new realms of dark ambient tension to fashionably scruffy youths across the globe, it’s high time for a reappraisal of Third Eye Foundation with this 20th anniversary (bloody hell) reissue of Elliott’s debut, Semtex.
Fleshed out with an additional album’s worth of demos, early experiments, and lost recordings, this is a treasure trove of hidden gems and absolutely essential killers, further illuminating the fusion of his work with local peers Flying Saucer Attack and Movietone into the rough rides of hardcore and jungle. Semtex is a crucial document of electronic rhythm that’s neither ambient nor IDM, hardcore nor soft. If you were to describe this music with any one word, call it hardgore, simultaneously illuminating both the nastiest and most profound elements of urban unrest and antisocial anxiety. Play this as loudly as you can bear… and then maybe kick it up a touch louder.
3. Trevor Duncan/Chris Marker
Three cheers to Superior Viaduct for finally, for the first time ever, issuing Trevor Duncan’s score to Chris Marker’s landmark 1962 science fiction film La Jetée – it’s one hell of a doozy to choose as their 100th release. A brief, beautiful and complex sci-fi fairy tale (to very much oversimplify), the film was made almost entirely with still photo shots rather than moving pictures. Adding to the impact of these striking shots is the soundtrack, which acts as a stunning piece of sonic storytelling where the dialogue, Foley sound and music all come together to illuminate what is essentially a radio play on record.
Viaduct has wisely used both the original French dialogue and the translated English dub (each occupying its own respective side of the LP), retaining the dialogue while emphasizing the phonetic beauty of the uttered word. Duncan’s orchestrations are lush, longing, and intrinsically locked to Marker’s visuals, which in turn elevate Duncan’s score beyond background music into something symbiotic, nodding to Stravinsky and Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s both revelatory and somewhat controversial that we finally have a document separating La Jetée’s visual world from its aural one, and who knows how long this will stay in print. Pick it up post-haste if the sonic world of cinema means anything to you.
2. Eddie Hazel
Games Dames & Guitar Thangs
Along with Bootsy Collins, Tiki Fulwood, and Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel is one of the most canonized instrumental cosmonauts in George Clinton’s P-Funk universe, best known as the guitarist whose epic 10-minute solo blew minds on Funkadelic’s classic ‘Maggot Brain’. He’s also responsible for most of the more brain-melting six-string workouts on P-funk tunes, but during his life he only recorded a lone solo LP, 1977’s Game Dames & Guitar Thangs. Original copies of the LP have long been scarce as the LP (originally released on Warner Brothers) was swiftly deleted, and copies surfacing over the years have all been bootlegs of varying degrees of illegitimacy. Leave it to the fine folks at Be With Records to get their hands on the master tapes for this beautiful, official, limited edition reissue – the album has never sounded better in the modern era (even the CD issues over the years have been a bit flat, soundwise).
This is deep, dirty psychedelic soul, featuring top-shelf performances by many of the P-funk elite as they work out a number of Clinton/Collins/Hazel originals, recontextualizing a few well-worn cover tunes (‘California Dreamin’, ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’), with Hazel’s shag carpet and wood-panelling vibes connecting the dots between Jimi Hendrix and Shuggie Otis in the world of post-blues African-American psychedelia.
Special mention must also be made to the rest of Be With’s excellent February reissues, which include Kylie Minogue’s 1994 eponymous album (spread out across two LPs for the first time), California yacht rock figurehead Ned Doheny’s 1973 debut (its first vinyl reissue), and perhaps most excitingly, Andy Bey’s 1974 celestial jazz-funk monolith Experience And Judgement. There’s a little something for everyone in their roster this month, and each one of these titles is worth your cash.
1. Harry Bertoia
Sonambient box set
Despite the many wonderful titles that saw a reissue or archival release this month, the number one was a no-brainer. This mammoth, 11-CD box set collecting the beautiful, transcendent recordings of sculptor and designer Harry Bertoia and his Sonambient sculptures is an invaluable document, a labor of love detailing the creation and history of these breathtaking works of art and the hypnotic sounds that they produce.
Originally self-released on a series of privately pressed LPs in the early to mid-1970s, the recordings feature Bertoia himself “playing” his sculptures, which were captured in the striking photographs on the original LP sleeves and have now been replicated in the box set for each of its respective discs. The sounds that these sculptures produce range from softly elongated drones to wild multiphonic textures and bell tones that sound like sophisticated synthesizers or primitive ritual musics. Bertoia’s sculptures are simultaneously both ancient and modern, and they’ve never sounded better, as the folks at Important Records have managed to source these remastered CDs from the original tapes (save for one of the albums, the masters for which have apparently been lost).
This is the real deal, pure art in all manifestations, and it’s possibly the quintessential collection of ambient music ever made: equal parts environmental recording and musique concrète taken to its most literal and logical metallic extremes. The only thing missing is a Blu-Ray/DVD collecting films of the sculptures in motion, but hey –it’s a fucking miracle of the modern age that this happened at all. Important Records deserve a medal for the work they’ve done here, and knowing the amount of time they spent at the Bertoia studio working on this epic endeavor, they hopefully got one.