The month’s best reissues: Grace Jones’ tropical heat, Shinichi Atobe and cocaine socialism
Thanks to the graft of reissue labels and canny collectors, there’s an embarrassment of neglected, forgotten or misunderstood riches 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, Mikey IQ Jones works through the stacks to pick our favorite reissues and retrospectives of the last month, featuring influential German synthwave, lost dub techno, rare new age, acrid electro punk and Ethiopian keyboard jams.
10. Din A Testbild
Mannequin Records has issued a fresh edition of influential German synthwave group Din A Testbild’s 1980 debut album Programm 1, originally released on Klaus Schulze’s Innovative Communications label, and produced and mixed by the Tangerine Dream electronic wizard himself. Din A Testbild were cut from a slightly different cloth than their peers in Einstürzende Neubauten, Rheingold, and Malaria, eschewing serrated industrial and motorik aesthetics in favor of a more obtuse sound that sits more comfortably next to the hypnotic minimalism of Monoton and Dome.
These six pieces offer up spirals of flanged electronic drums, droning feedback loops, and layers of synthesizer splatter, crafting art pop studies that are highly recommended for those who dig their new wave on the bleaker end of the spectrum. This brittle classic is both very much of its time and yet still fascinatingly modern.
9. Stelvio Cipriani
Italian maestro Stelvio Cipriani’s 1980 Rhythmical Movement LP was originally released on the CAM label in a private micro-edition. This upbeat collection of synth-heavy disco bumps and offbeat samba now sees new life via Cinedelic’s pressing, remastered with new art and a mirrored sleeve for maximum cocaine socialism.
Cipriani’s catalogue is vast and intimidating, but this lumpy little collection of cop funk and knuckle-headed riffs serves as a pretty solid entry point into the man’s career, at a considerably more tidy price tag than the original pressing.
8. Shinichi Atobe
Elusive and heavily lauded underground dub techno enigma Shinichi Atobe has seen a career renaissance thanks to Demdike Stare’s curatorial efforts via their DDS label. After cracking open skulls with 2015’s archival Butterfly Effect LP, they’re delivering further delights with yet another Atobe collection entitled World. Vaguely declared to have been constructed and recorded “sometime in the past 20 years”, the set strips away Atobe’s already stark palette, as if the cuts on display here are further deconstructions of the material collected on Butterfly Effect. Drum pads sizzle, corroded electronics snap, and basslines undulate like a mutant hybrid of Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas and early Herbert.
While not offering much in the way of new breakthroughs into Atobe’s sound, those who’ve previously found themselves roaming his terrain and eager for a return trip will find much to love on World.
7. Ariel Kalma
Originally released in 1980 on esteemed French label Editions Montparnasse 2000, this impossibly rare album by spiritual synthesist Ariel Kalma offers a star-gazing departure from the more earth-bound meditation music documented on RVNG’s excellent 2014 anthology An Evolutionary Music. Picking up chronologically where that collection left off, Interfrequence focuses on brief miniatures – predominantly two to three-minute tracks that play like space-age tone poems, concise studies for electric organ, synthesizer, primitive drum machines, and various flutes and reeds.
The pocket ragas go down easily, and like much of the Editions Montparnasse catalogue, this beautiful album – given a fresh set of wings by the Black Sweat label, which has been responsible for many recent Kalma reissues – is a crash course in this brilliant man’s sound, broken down into easily digestible portions.
6. Ganimian & His Oriental Music
Come With Me to The Casbah
Andy Votel’s reliable Cacophonic imprint delivers once again with Come With Me to The Casbah, a mesmerizing slice of vintage exotica by Armenian-American oud master Chick Ganimian, perhaps best known for his contributions to a pair of 1960s Herbie Mann recordings. On 1959’s Come With Me To The Casbah, Ganimian took center stage as both bandleader and frontman, performing clever original vocal tunes more akin to Cab Calloway than any sort of novelty belly dance shenanigans, an association made by original label Atco in a foolish attempt to market it.
It’s a charming, eclectic record, of equal importance as NYC reedsman Joe Maneri’s debut Music Of Cleopatra On The Nile session (which suffered a similar fate, though at least Ganimian got his name on the damned sleeve). Come With Me To The Casbah offers up a fascinating and all-too-brief snapshot of a major talent in total command of his powers, subverting a rather ignorant pop trend and using it to his musical advantage.
5. Grace Jones
Warm Leatherette, the fourth studio album by the iconic Grace Jones, was a massive leap forward for the performer, whose previous three LPs were overwrought and overthought disco productions handled by Tom Moulton. For this album she rang in the new decade with what has become arguably one of the greatest bands of the 20th century, a powerhouse combo that brought forth the indestructible beats of Sly & Robbie, the keyboard wizardry of Wally Badarou, dual guitar attacks by Mikey Chung and Barry Reynolds, and percussion work by Sticky Thompson.
The Compass Point All-Stars, as they’d been dubbed, gave Grace a stripped down, streamlined, and wholly cosmopolitan tropical heat – the antithesis of Moulton’s overstuffed mixes and arrangements in the disco era. Island Records boss Chris Blackwell wanted the most modern band he could put together, and boy did he succeed. With Warm Leatherette, the All-Stars arguably created what was the first cyberpunk record – a sound that fused Caribbean rhythms, reggae’s bass throb, madcap electronics and rock’s snarl. Jones has seldom sounded better, tackling classic tunes by Smokey Robinson, Roxy Music, Tom Petty, The Pretenders, and Jacques Higelin along with a few originals.
Recently remastered by Universal/Island, this version of Warm Leatherette comes overflowing with alternate and extended mixes, dub versions, and edits. It’s arguably the most definitive edition of one of the most timeless and modern albums in Island’s catalogue – only Jones’s other two Compass Point LPs can match the quiet menace and sensual intensity of this milestone.
4. Various Artists
Sky Girl: A Sentimental Journey Through Folk Pop, DIY New Wave, & Art Music Micro Presses 1961-1991
This heartfelt compilation by fledgling Australian label Efficient Space is a true labor of love, an unequivocally stunning collection of heartbroken songs culled from rare private and vanity pressings spanning 30 years. Despite this large window of time, Sky Girl is masterfully sequenced, and eclecticism works in its favor rather than detracting from its delights. The comp dabbles in everything from stripped-down Marine Girls soundalikes to forlorn sixties Laurel Canyon folk-pop, from domestic synthwave experiments to psychedelic bedroom soul, playing like an expertly curated mixtape made by a dear friend.
It’s been a long time since a compilation has struck me so profoundly, but this was easily the most wonderful and surprising discovery of the month. Each of the album’s 15 tracks was officially licensed by the original artists after an arduous two-year hunt, and that same commitment shines through the gloomy grooves that haunt these four sides of vinyl. This one puts the art in heart.
Alan Vega * Martin Rev
Plenty has been written about Suicide’s highly influential 1977 debut, and deservedly so – it’s an epochal record whose power has seldom diminished over the years. But while that album’s brute force and Bowery swagger gets the better reputation, the band’s 1980 sophomore LP is arguably the superior product.
Alan Vega * Martin Rev was produced by The Cars’ Ric Ocasek and featured keyboardist Rev navigating a stack of shiny new gear on the fly. The acrid smell of stale cigarettes and cheap perfume wafts between mirrored walls as Alan Vega croons about “Diamonds, Fur Coat[s], Champagne”. This is the duo’s subversion of pop, swapping out its glitter for a jittery, nervous cold sweat and laser beam intensity.
While the band’s debut has been reissued countless times over the years since its initial release, Superior Viaduct has finally managed to get this brilliant followup back in the vinyl racks again where it belongs. This is the sound of a band fully owning their sound and power.
2. Hailu Mergia & Dhalak Band
Wede Harer Guzo
(Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Awesome Tapes From Africa continue their reissue campaign of Ethiopian keyboard master and bandleader Hailu Mergia with Wede Harer Guzo, an altogether more low-key affair than 1977’s Tche Belew. Here he’s joined by a different group, the Dhalak Band, and the results are striking; Mergia’s intent was to purposefully explore a different sound for his instrumental music than the work he was doing with the Wailas Band, so he hooked up with the house band at Addis’s chic Ghion Hotel nightclub.
In contrast with Tche Belew‘s tight, seamless grooves, this session captures a looser, after-hours feel (despite being recorded in three afternoon sessions) which pushes Mergia’s organ toward the back of the mix in favor of relaxed but soulful vocal harmonies, robust horn work, and an almost bluesy shuffle, fusing the sound of New Orleans to the heart of Addis.
There’s an almost mournful quality to these tunes which casts a spectral atmosphere over Mergia’s talents, and the album in turn helps expand the evidence that Mergia was (and remains) an incomparable talent, able to embrace stylistic diversity without sacrifice or compromise. Consider this the Awesome Tape For Rainy Days; Ethiopian soul at its most pure and heartfelt.
1. Michal Turtle
Phantoms Of Dreamland
(Music From Memory)
British-born composer and DIY savant Michal Turtle first resurfaced thanks to an archival 12″ on Music From Memory in 2015. That masterful single sent crate-diggers into a Discogs frenzy, so thankfully the label has followed up with a double album. Phantoms Of Dreamland features more tracks from Turtle’s DIY masterpiece Music From The Livingroom, expanded and augmented by a number of previously unheard cuts from Turtle’s archives.
Throughout Dreamland‘s 15 tracks, Turtle takes the Fourth World exotica owned by the likes of Jon Hassell and casts it skyward, seeding its surrealist jungles with thick, pastel-hued cloud cover. Synthesizers gurgle like babbling brooks while patterns of cyclical hypnosis circle upward like birdsong. Throughout these cuts, a number of offbeat, slurred vocal chants and mumbled invocations drift in and out, bringing to mind the electropop experiments of Arthur Russell’s Calling Out Of Context, if he’d had the luxury of jamming with Wally Badarou in a Bahamian bungalow instead of a dingy Lower East Side walkup.
This is obtuse environmental pop, acknowledging styles but refusing to bow to their standards, instead conjuring new worlds and inviting listeners into the landscape via magic carpet. Music From Memory has one hell of a solid track record, but they’ve really outdone themselves with this one.