Delia Derbyshire, Larry Levan and Tony Conrad: The month’s best 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 digs through this month’s best releases, featuring a BBC Radiophonic Workshop classic, a rare collection of raucous musique concrète, Larry Levan, Tony Conrad and more.

Click on the album title to hear a snippet of each release.


10. Karel Appel
Musique Barbare
(Sub Rosa)

In 1963, noted Dutch painter Karel Appel self-released a little-known LP of electroacoustic madness, which was then re-released that same year by Philips Netherlands. Until now, Appel’s Musique Barbare has been virtually impossible to find or hear, save for a brief micro-edition as a Creel Pone CDR about seven years ago. Sub Rosa come to the rescue with this lovingly produced new edition, presenting Appel’s inventively (and somewhat impishly) manipulated organ clusters and percussion tumbles to a fresh set of ears.

The album’s three extended pieces each work with a palette of heavily percussive textures, splicing free jazz drum solos and the clatter of kettle drums into dense tone-drones of electric organ and tape phase, at times sounding like an imaginary collab between Sun Ra circa Atlantis or Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy and peak period Han Bennink, when the Dutch drummer was performing solo gigs with a hatchback filled with drum detritus. This is musique concrète at its most raucous and punk, displaying both a playfulness and an impish brutality whose visceral power is impossible to ignore.


9. Tony Conrad & Faust
Outside the Dream Syndicate
(Superior Viaduct)

The sudden loss of noted American composer Tony Conrad earlier this month was a major blow to the experimental music community, and this unfortunately timed reissue has managed to provide a cathartic balm to help process his loss. Originally released on vinyl via Caroline in 1973, Outside The Dream Syndicate was the violinist’s lone release for decades until the Table Of The Elements label issued a series of necessary archival documents, including an expanded edition of this masterpiece. The original LP, though, has never been reissued on vinyl until now, thanks to Superior Viaduct.

Over the course of the album’s two 20-plus-minute pieces, Conrad moves away (or “outside”, as the title suggests) from the work he was then exploring with members of The Dream Syndicate — previously known as The Theatre Of Eternal Music — which included La Monte Young, Marian Zazeela, John Cale, Angus MacLise, and Jon Hassell. After being invited to record in Germany with Faust producer Uwe Nettelbeck, Conrad suddenly found himself recording with the infamous German art rockers, who were then between the releases of The Faust Tapes and Faust IV.

What transpired was a mesmerizing behemoth of dream music that at first sounds queasy and unsettling, as Conrad’s violin saws away at a thick drone which upon initial listen sounds and feels impenetrable. Yet as the pieces progress and the band’s metronomic performances lock in, one begins to lose sense of time and place as an eerie, quieting calm overtakes amidst the fracas. It’s perhaps the easiest entry point into Conrad’s modus, utilizing a “rock” context to blast off into the stratosphere. Faust fans can find much to enjoy as well, exploring more extended areas of avant-garde form and structure otherwise untapped outside of contemporaneous collaborations with Slapp Happy’s Anthony Moore. Those who’ve been curious about to the music of Tony Conrad should look no further.


8. Various Artists
Wake Up You! The Rise And Fall Of Nigerian Rock 1972-1977
(Now Again)

Now Again Records continues its excellent track record with this double-whammy of music from the burgeoning rock scene in civil war-torn Nigeria at the dawn of the 1970s. Wake Up You! compiles 34 tracks of raw and raucous Afro-rock, covering everything from sociopolitically conscious funk cuts to sludgy post-Sabbath brain melters, garage screamers to percolating dancefloor bangers. It demonstrates the shift away from western rock pastiche into a unique sound drawing upon the nation’s own rich musical history and fusing it to the distorted sounds of the rock revolution.

There’s a wonderful diversity displayed throughout, and the hardbound books accompanying each of the set’s two volumes are treasure troves of information, featuring band profiles and historical context alongside stunning photos and insightful essays by noted musicologist Uchenna Ikonne. I was only familiar with two of the groups here, many of the bands having been lost to history and obscurity; thanks to this effort, these wonderful bands now have a second chance to shine, stomp, and scream — turn this one up and do as the title implores.


7. Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes
Ame Debout / Paix
(Philips)

Though she began as a yé-yé pop singer in the vein of Françoise Hardy, and is best known to many via her role in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film Les Carabiniers, avant-chanteuse Catherine Ribiero’s reputation relies most upon these stunning early ‘70s masterpieces, which meld blackened lyrical themes and solemn folk instrumentation with droning psychedelics, acid rock, and the clatter of Patrice Moullet’s DIY motorized percussion instruments. Musically adventurous and sonically thrilling, this music is carried by Ribeiro’s earth-moving voice, which sounds as though it can blast holes through concrete – an elemental splicing of Grace Slick, Brigitte Fontaine, and Yoko Ono.

Atop Moullet’s percolating machinations are clouds of electric organ which evoke Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air and long, spiraling passages of bass and guitar; each instrumental element seems to dance alongside and in between the others, never touching or interlocking into a groove, but instead crafting a complex tapestry of texture and melody that is simply mesmerizing. On 1972 masterpiece Paix, they’d seemingly perfected their chemistry and distilled it into four spectral hymns which slowly evolve from basic psych-rock invocations into a sun-bleached beckoning of the heavens, as rhythms interlock and strings spiral upward.

These albums are cornerstones of international psychedelia, ably shifting between genres and song forms into a music that’s truly quite unlike anything else, and they’re personal favorites to boot.


6. Krzysztof Komeda Quintet
Astigmatic
(Warner Music Poland)

Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda has earned a deserved reputation as one of cinema’s most unique and talented maestros, a man who was sadly taken from the world too soon, but who managed to leave behind an astonishing and quite sizeable body of work after his death in 1969. What many outside of the world of western cinema perhaps don’t know is that Komeda — best known in the English-speaking world for his scores to Roman Polanski films like Rosemary’s Baby, Knife In The Water, and The Fearless Vampire Killers (my personal favorite) — was also a highly accomplished jazz pianist, recognized as one of the forefathers of European jazz.

For evidence, look no further than his essential 1965 album Astigmatic, recorded with his quintet including noted players like trumpeter Tomasz Stańko and drummer Rune Carlsson. Astigmatic is recognized as one of the key documents shifting European jazz away from deliberate pastiche of the American blues-rooted style and into something drawing greater influence from classical music and more untethered improvisations. The post-bop sound remains, but is subverted into something at once more menacing and dramatic than much of the album’s American counterparts, no doubt in part thanks to Komeda’s expertise in scoring films.

It’s the rare jazz album that one can enjoy both in more ambient “background” context, thanks to its undeniable swing and cool, but which really deserves more attentive and devoted listening. Komeda’s compositions and arrangements are beautiful and complex, and it’s the rare epochal album whose power is still potent from the first listen through to its thousandth.


5. Hiroshi Fujiwara
Nothing Much Better To Do / In Dub Conference
(Victor Japan)

Hiroshi Fujiwara is perhaps best known to western connoisseurs as the godfather of Harajuku street style, and one of the men who first brought hip-hop culture to Japan in the mid 1980s. Aside from being a style icon, designer, and cultural ambassador of sorts, he’s also a producer and musician, having recorded a number of solo albums under his own name in the early to mid 1990s. His first two solo albums have just seen reissue in new Deluxe Editions by Victor Japan, who released that killer batch of Plastics reissues last month.

Where those albums were jittery, nervous blasts of new wave and post punk energy, Fujiwara’s records are of an entirely different breed: his 1994 solo debut Nothing Much Better To Do is a shift away from the hip-hop and rap-oriented tracks he was producing with the influential Major Force crew (of which he was a founding member), into a more downtempo zone that shared aesthetic ties with the acid jazz chillout and Shibuya cafe cultures gaining traction at the time.

The album’s eight original songs float on gently orchestrated acoustic grooves and free-soul melodies smoother than a cappuccino, with lead vocal turns by a diverse cast including Sister Sledge’s Kathy Sledge, Terry Hall of The Specials and Fun Boy Three, and Neneh Cherry. Hall’s aching turn on ‘Getting Over You’ is a highlight, but Cherry really steals the show with ‘Turn My Back’, an breakbeat rap ballad that features one of her most passionate early performances anchored by seductive production. The album plays like the clean-cut older brother to the trip-hop ruffians about to rear their scruffy heads that same year, and Fujiwara saw fit to change tack completely with his next album, establishing a style and format that he’d continue with to the present day across a number of albums and EPs.

1995’s In Dub Conference presented a simple but distinctive concept that brought two of Fujiwara’s two favorite sounds together into a brilliant collusion, as he anchors his atmospheric piano études with vaporous synth drones and slo-mo dub beats. It proved such a success that Fujiwara has since released albums in the same style exploring classical compositions and even recasting classic songs by the Jackson 5 in his style with their original vocals intact.

Both records, while wildly different in their respective approaches, are criminally underrated outside of Japan, where they’ve retained devoted cult status. He still makes music — much of which is lovely if somewhat polite — but just about everything he does now can be traced back to the blueprints established on these two albums. I can’t recommend them enough.


4. BBC Radiophonic Workshop
21
(Silva Screen)

We’ve written much about the importance of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop over the years. Just about any of their albums are essential listening for fans of electronic music and tape composition, but this particular LP — first released in 1979 to celebrate the department’s 21st anniversary and its evolution away from tape effects and post-concrète composition (represented on the LP’s first side) into more heavily synthesized electronic creations (on the flip) — is of particular interest as it contains a few key documents in the Workshop’s portfolio, among them Delia Derbyshire’s original realization of the Doctor Who theme.

This landmark piece of electronic music — constructed entirely from tape loops and oscillators — is worth the price of admission alone, but we also get a plethora of additional bumpers and themes from Derbyshire (‘Talk Out’, ‘Arabic Science And Industry’, ‘Know Your Car’), Maddalena Fagandini (‘Time Beat’, ‘Ideal Home Exhibition’), and Desmond Briscoe (‘Quatermass And The Pit’), while the B-side includes synthy wonders by Paddy Kingsland, Dick Mills, and Peter Howell, whose clockwork vocoder lullaby ‘Greenwich Chorus’ is also of major relevance here. Silva Screen have done a lovely repro edition of this classic Radiophonic document, and after years of somehow being the black sheep of the Workshop’s reissue catalogue, it’s lovely to finally have it back on shelves.


3. Larry Levan
Genius Of Time
(Universal Special Products)

Known many times over as one of the best DJs and remixers in the history of dance music, Larry Levan’s CV was simply too massive to assemble into one tidy little retrospective parcel. Genius Of Time doesn’t manage to change that, as it focuses on remixes for Universal-owned labels like Island, Mango, Motown, and A&M, but in essence, this proves to be somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as we’ve already been given retrospectives of Levan’s disco-era work for Salsoul and West End. What we get instead is Levan’s post-disco work, with the neon glow of synthetic pop and hushed sultriness of R&B.

While there are obviously some classics missing due to the lack of the disco tunes, the set makes up for it with some of Levan’s most seductive and slinky cuts, among them four stone-cold bangers by Gwen Guthrie and the Compass Point All Stars, an underrated Grace Jones classic (‘Feel Up’, here featuring its full vocal), a vaporous garage anthem by late-period Smokey Robinson (‘And I Don’t Love You’), one of Arthur Russell’s less celebrated Loose Joints jams (‘Tell You Today’), and my personal favorite, ‘You Can’t Hide Your Love From Me’ by Hi-Tension frontman David Joseph. Levan’s mix of the Joseph tune has long been a sleeper classic, the kind of tune you either know by heart or become obsessed with after feeling its magic convert you on the dancefloor.

This set features a great number of those kinds of tunes, offsetting a few obvious choices with a number of deeper cuts that are likely unknown to all but the most obsessive Paradise Garage descendants. Plain and simple, Genius Of Time is a lesson in NYC club music.


2. Various Artists
Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
(Dust-To-Digital)

In a word: wow. Dust-To-Digital have always had a stellar reputation for releasing rich, rewarding box sets stuffed to the gills with culturally and historically important music, supplemented by superior packaging and liner notes. The label may have reached its high-water mark, though, with Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959 — four CDs of incredible, vibrant music recorded by author, composer, and longtime Tangiers resident Paul Bowles for the Library Of Congress during a six-week stretch in 1959.

This isn’t so much a purist document of enthnomusicology as much as it is a vivid portrait of the Morocco of which Bowles and many of Beat contemporaries grew so fond. The long-form performances captured here are a combination of in situ snapshots of street musicians and more pre-orchestrated performances set up by either Bowles or the Moroccan government, and they focus their gaze mostly at Moroccan music’s power to hypnotize and transport, removed from the heavy, hackneyed psychedelic phasing of Brian Jones’s recordings of The Master Musicians of Jajouka, for example.

The box includes a 120-page leatherette book with Bowles’s field annotations and producer notes, as well as those of Philip D. Schuyler, who is responsible for compiling this new expanded edition of the original 1972 Congress set, offering up all of the original unedited performances as well as additional recordings from Bowles’s archives. There’s also an introduction by Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, as well as fully illustrated maps, photos, and additional ephemera. It is a breathtaking piece of cultural history.


1. Haruomi Hosono
Cochin Moon
(King/HMV Japan)

Yes, you’re reading this correctly. A legit, non-bootleg vinyl reissue of one of the holy grails of fourth-world avant-ambient synthesis, and believe it or not, this was a Record Store Day release in Japan this year. Take note, America: this is how you do it right. Originally released a few months after Haruomi Hosono’s 1978 Paraiso LP — famous for featuring the first trio grouping of the band that would become Yellow Magic Orchestra — Hosono’s Cochin Moon, an album credited to himself and famed graphic artist Tadanori Yokoo, who provides the album’s iconic cover art, actually features Harry in trio with synth wizards Hiroshi Sato and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Hosno and Yokoo had traveled to India prior to making the album, and while there are nods to the nation’s Bollywood culture in both the album’s sleeve art and the melodic structure of penultimate track ‘Hum Ghar Sajan’, the majority of the record is built around swarms of analogue mosquitos, delirious vocoder chants, and a throbbing pulse indicative of feverish malaria sweats.

It’s a stunning piece of electronic psychedelia that laid the foundations for the kinds of cultural collisions that would dominate Hosono’s solo career for decades to come. Original vinyl copies of this behemoth regularly fetch three-figure sums secondhand these days, and they just don’t turn up like they used to, so if you’re fiending for a legit pressing, here’s your chance — there are still copies making the rounds post-RSD, believe it or not, though they aren’t likely to last long.