The month’s best reissues: Twin Peaks, battle rhymes and punk perversion
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 Kraut-influenced abstraction from Stereolab’s Tim Gane, subversive punk from Annie Anxiety, Angelo Badalementi’s essential Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack and loads more.
10. Cavern Of Anti-Matter
(Duophonic UHF Disks)
Tim Gane kept relatively silent after the dissolution of Stereolab, until a mysterious double-LP entitled Blood Drums slipped out in 2013 on Staubgold under an ominous new moniker: Cavern Of Anti-Matter. The album’s original 500-copy pressing quickly sold out, and began fetching astronomical sums on the secondhand market due to Stereolab’s rabid collector fanbase. With the subsequent release of a handful of singles and a sophomore album last year, Gane has seen fit to reissue Blood Drums on his own long-running Duophonic UHF imprint for those who missed out the first time.
The album’s kinetic, cyclical sprawl hones in on a number of sonic reference points that Gane has ably worshipped in the past, yet somehow magnifies many of them with a stronger aesthetic intensity this time around. Repetition is the key ingredient here, whether it comes from pummeling Neu!-inspired Apache drum beats or phase-shifted drum machines anchoring synthesizer blurts. Much of the pop/MOR sugar of Gane’s work with Stereolab is removed entirely, with Cavern of Anti-Matter instead opting for a much more sinister and austere sonic assault.
A few of these cuts find Gane tapping back into his shoegaze roots as a guitarist, and this back-to-basics approach leads to a wonderful exercise in cosmic robotic hypnosis, crafting an imaginary scenario that locks Giorgio Moroder, Klaus Dinger, and The Jesus and Mary Chain in a room together to see what gets birthed.
9. Victor Assis Brasil
Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim
Far Out Records continues a reissue campaign of Quartin Records gems from 1970s Brazil with this spiritual jazz stunner by saxophonist Victor Assis Brasil, who leads a crack team of instrumentalists in reimagining the iconic works of Antonio Carlos Jobim. While anyone with an interest in Brazilian music has likely heard much of Jobim’s work interpreted ad infinitum, Assis Brasil’s arrangements give these dreamy classics some teeth; he and his band (which includes pianist and samba soul maestro Dom Salvador) create some of the deepest, most unique interpretations of classic tunes like ‘Wave’ and ‘Dindi’ I’ve ever heard.
Beautifully produced by Roberto Quartin, the album plays like a Brazilian equivalent to the heavy platters being released by Impulse! and Lansdowne in the States and England at the time, and at 29 minutes, it’s one of those rare examples of an album that honestly should be longer.
Fans of heavyweights like Archie Shepp, Joe Harriott, Jackie McLean, and yes, John Coltrane would be wise to investigate this album – it’s one of the single most effective bridges between bossa nova and post-bop jazz that never once falls prey to kitsch or novelty, instead showcasing Jobim’s masterful talents as a composer by means of almost total deconstruction.
8. The Mothers Of Invention
Cruising With Ruben And The Jets
(Barking Pumpkin / Zappa Records)
While Frank Zappa can be a hugely polarizing figure in rock music, often infusing his complex and dizzying compositions with knuckleheaded attempts at humor, his 1968 album Cruising With Ruben And The Jets (recorded with his group The Mothers Of Invention) stands as a strange outlier in a sprawling discography that is often filled with sonic contradictions and disparate influences. In fact, it’s the conceptual and sonic unity of Ruben that makes it one of Zappa’s most consistent and accessible albums – one where he manages to hit the aesthetic bullseye on every song, and where the fun is seldom spoiled by snobbery. It also happens to be a killer slice of psychedelic blue-eyed soul.
Ruben was recorded as a parody of – and tribute to – the doo wop harmony vocal groups that Zappa and many of his Mothers bandmates grew up listening to; it also happens to be the sound that gave Zappa his professional start, as he had worked as an engineer and occasional songwriter in a small California studio known for recording doo wop and surf bands prior to starting the Mothers Of Invention. While Zappa subsequently wrote off the album as a goof, the album’s tunes are masterfully arranged exercises that fuse the stripped-down minimalism of doo wop with the repetitive interlocking harmonies of classical minimalist techniques. Lyrically, Ruben‘s songs exaggerate daydreams of teenage suicide, breast worship, and other first world teenage problems, intensifying the genre’s subject matter to its extreme.
It’s the album’s experimental production, though, that really takes it out of the realm of parody. Zappa utilizes heavily affected tape loops of drums and voices throughout many of the album’s songs, he sneaks Igor Stravinsky quotes into the melodies, and the vocal arrangements often foreshadow the uncomfortable inharmony of This Heat or Ariel Pink rather than directly referencing the classic sounds of The Del-Vikings or The Penguins. Special mention must be made of Cal Schenkel’s cover art, as well; his band of anthropomorphic dogs (presumably in heat!) were as an influence on infamous illustrator Savage Pencil, and brought a bit more of the underground comics world into 1960s rock culture.
Long written off as a minor work in Zappa’s discography, Ruben And The Jets has considerably more going for it when viewed outside the narrow peepers of rock history. Now that it’s been fully restored to its original 1968 mix on both CD* and 180-gram vinyl after Zappa himself had the bass and drums re-recorded in the mid/late-80s by then-contemporary bandmates (which, as cool and fucked as that sounds on paper, is a bit of a mess in reality), there’s no excuse for listeners to dig into this weird, fun, and stupidly catchy soul record.
*It’s important to note that the CD/digital version of the original album is now entitled Greasy Love Songs, and includes a boatload of excellent bonus material, while the new vinyl edition is a direct repro of the original album!
¿Cómo Se Divertirán Los Insectos?
Randomize was an alias of one Eugenio Muñoz, who also served time as one half of Mecánica Popular, whose 1984 LP Qué Sucede Con El Tiempo has previously been featured in this column thanks to a 2015 reissue on Dead-Cert. Much like that brilliant platter, the Randomize album employs ragged mechanics and humid synthesis, its soundscapes evoking a mutant strain of Balearic industrial music.
Every piece of technology used to create ¿Cómo Se Divertirán Los Insectos? sounds like it’s got sand lodged in its joints; there’s mango juice making the keyboards sticky, and clouds of mosquitos are swarming around blocky rhythms, just waiting for something to bite into. This is a brilliant piece of work, hovering somewhere between the borders of environmental music, proto-techno, and avant-garde computer-generated maximalism; it’s packed to the gills with huge slabs of sound, juggling polyrhythms before suddenly breaking out into nearly-funky grooves.
22 Somerset Drive (1976-78)
Neftali Santiago was the drummer and vocalist for influential Brooklyn funk outfit Mandrill, but for a brief period between 1975 and 1978, Santiago took a sabbatical to explore new avenues as a solo artist. While only one single saw release at the time (a bright, bouncy boogie bomb called ‘Land of the Leaping Nono’ / ‘Feelin’ Fine’), Manufactured Recordings has worked with Santiago himself to unearth the 11 songs collected on 22 Somerset Drive, named after the New Jersey house where Santiago learned to play drums and sculpt his personal musical vision.
Legend has it that, after playing George Clinton his solo single, Santiago was invited to join Funkadelic as they were set to morph back into Parliament. Santiago turned the offer down, but their symbiotic influence on one another is wholly apparent upon listening to this collection – many of the songs feature the robust horns that were a fixture of Parliament, and the later cuts heavily feature P-Funk’s squelching bass synths and deep harmony vocals.
Naturally, Santiago’s deft rhythmic chops come to the fore as well; nearly every song has a push, drive, and bounce that make it damn near impossible to sit still. If you dig the P-Funk sound, Mandrill, Ohio Players, or even more modern practitioners like Dam-Funk, you owe it to yourself to give this a spin. It’s essentially the party platter of the month.
5. Y Pants
Beat It Down
Even outside of the serrated nihilism of the NYC no wave era, Y Pants would’ve stuck out sonically. A trio comprised of visual artists Gail Vachon, Virginia Piersol, and Barbara Ess (who had also clocked time as a member of Glenn Branca’s no wave band The Static), they scaled back the aggression of no wave by playing toy instruments with minimal amplification and infusing their songs with a wry literary streak, writing songs with lyrics by the likes of Emily Dickinson, Bertolt Brecht, and Lynne Tillman. Their arrangements poke fun at the chin-stroking minimalism that ran rampant through the NYC downtown art community at the time, instead offering a playful variant on both punk music and performance art. Their concept of “small music” was achieved via their instrumental arsenal of toy piano, ukulele, kalimbas, recorders, and Casio keyboards augmented with occasional electric bass and a stripped-down trap drum kit.
Y Pants’ lone 1982 album Beat It Down opens with the mantra “Don’t be afraid to be boring,” bu the record is anything but; its energies are focused upon a sinister quietude, exploring chants and driving polyrhythms inspired as much by the first wave of punk as the African indigenous music that was finding its way into so many artists’ and musicians’ record collections at the time. The music of Y Pants re-contextualizes the idea of the girl group – often unfairly portrayed as victims from both lyrical and critical viewpoints – as a tribe of cunning and intelligent anthropologists, singing chants about the so-called banalities of everyday life in the urban jungle and the importance of the daily ritual without ever succumbing to self-pity or sacrifice.
4. Teruo Nakamura
Bassist Teruo Nakamura assembled one hell of a monster ensemble to play on Unicorn, his 1973 debut as a bandleader. Originally released by the Three Blind Mice label (one of Japan’s most consistent and incredible free/soul jazz labels), Unicorn brings together heavyweights like saxophonist Steve Grossman, Alphonse Mouzon and Lenny White on drums, Charles Sullivan on trumpet, and a young Ronald Shannon Jackson on percussion (among many others) for what could only be described as a slept-on spiritual soul jazz classic.
Every player here is in fine form, stepping up for dexterous solos without falling prey to the excesses of the fusion era that often spoils so many sessions from this time. In fact, while there’s almost no mistaking when the album was recorded, it retains a colorfully robust vibe that still gives it serious wings today; even at its most outré, the record still swings and grooves with precision, each part intertwining and dancing together into some beautiful textures. While predominantly an instrumental outing, the two vocal cuts are also of note, particularly ‘Umma Be Me’, which gives Grossman some space to really let his then-recent experience with Miles Davis’s electric band flourish.
3. Roaring Lion
Cairi Calypso 1930-1939
Rafael “Roaring Lion” de Leon was an influential figure in the world of Trinidadian calypso, and one of the first calypso vocalists to travel to New York to record abroad on widely released and distributed 78s, essentially spreading the Trinidadian sound out of the Caribbean and into popular culture. He was an early and key developer in the development of “war” calypsos, essentially one of the earliest antecedents to the battle rhyme so prevalent in rap, ragga, and soca culture today, and on Cairi Calypso, the Asherah label compiles a number of Lion’s early war sides along with other calypsos that helped bring fame and notoriety not only to Lion himself, but to Trinidad’s vital music community at large.
What set Lion apart from many of his peers was the often rapid-fire delivery of his lyrics, a more aggressive but still melodic approach that demonstrated de Leon’s background as a composer and musician. He was able to sight read, notate chords, and had an omnivorous musical appetite that most certainly makes its way into the arrangements of songs like ‘J’Ouvert Barrio’. Musically, the arrangements often operate in the borders between American hot jazz and Caribbean mento, filled with gently percolating rhythms and uplifting reeds.
Cairi Calypso is an incredible and massively important document, one to which nearly all modern Caribbean popular music can be traced. Lion’s powerful (and then-scandalous) lyrics still hold water too, as he sings of government corruption, women seeking abortions, malicious scheming neighbors, and death itself – not exactly light fare then, and sociopolitical fodder that still ruffles feathers today.
2. Angelo Badalamenti
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
(Death Waltz / Mondo)
Controversial opinion alert: I find Angelo Badalamenti’s music for the unfairly-maligned Twin Peaks film Fire Walk With Me to be a far superior – if not as iconic – collection of music compared to the album that soundtracked the television series. Long out of print on all formats (even its CD edition is now a “print-on-demand” CDR), the vinyl edition of Fire Walk With Me was only ever released in European territories in minuscule quantities, and its near-hour runtime was squashed onto a single LP. After a long-desired reissue of the TV soundtrack last year, Death Waltz has followed that up with a gorgeous new edition of Fire Walk With Me, thankfully spread across two LPs.
Badalamenti’s jazz combo here includes heavyweights like drummer Grady Tate, bassist Ron Carter, and virtuoso guitarist Vinnie Bell, oft recognized as the man who developed the electric 12-string guitar, the wah-wah pedal, and the electric sitar among many others. That’s him playing the opening tremolo plucks on the Twin Peaks theme, by the way. What makes Fire Walk With Me stand out as a stronger album isn’t just the more robust jazz elements at play, but that the album as a whole also points the way forward for David Lynch.
Those omnipresent synth drones that made much of Badalamenti’s work on the TV soundtrack and the Julee Cruise albums come into play on a number of cuts, and somehow everything still plays cohesively (in an appropriately disorienting fashion) as an album unto itself. And then there’s ‘Sycamore Trees’, the gorgeous, harrowing vocal turn by infamous jazz countertenor “Little” Jimmy Scott that soundtracks one of the most stunning sequences of the TV series’ final episode.
What Fire Walk With Me may lack in sonic iconography is made up for with complete Lynchian immersion – no other sonic object of Lynch’s has cast such a wide net while still remaining so focused upon the small details of his most beloved and shadowy little town.
1. Annie Anxiety
Of the many eccentric and truly fearless characters that traversed the post punk landscape, Annie “Anxiety” Bandez stands in a class of her own. A New Yorker who made her way to the EU and UK at the time of punk’s anarcho salad days, she cut singles for Crass Records, formed a creative alignment pact with that band’s Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine, and assembled a ragtag rogues gallery of co-conspirators from groups like Flux Of Pink Indians, Family Fodder, and African Head Charge to record her debut album Soul Possession in 1983 for the Corpus Christi label. For all intents and purposes, though, this is essentially an On-U Sound production, as Adrian Sherwood and Kishi Yamamoto from the African Head Charge/On-U fold prove to be key figures in sculpting this beautifully ugly album’s cyberpunk dub framework.
Over drum machine bursts, synth splatters and heavy droplets of nyabinghi percussion, Annie delivers postcards from the industrial edge, her half spoken/half sung recitation blurring lines between the confrontational styles of punk and performance art. The entire album sounds as if it were recorded in the dilapidated apartment of J.F. Sebastian from Blade Runner; machines march, stomp, and dance around empty spaces while nyabinghi drums simulate the patter of rainfall in a shadowed corner, with synths simulating the sporadic flashes of light creeping in from the menacing city outside. Everything gurgles, convulses, and spits here – nothing is easy, nothing is pretty, and no one is your friend.
While Annie would further refine and explore this sonic terrain in greater detail with subsequent Sherwood/Yamamoto collaborations, Soul Possession’s ragged loner landscapes are the darkest productions from any of the involved parties. And while Bandez’s drug diary entries add a harrowing drama, the album is, for all its obtuse angles and serrated edges, a rather deep and grooving album. Subversion and perversion are key here – it’s time to get possessed.