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 Japanese psych-metal, sludge-rock miscreants, a Sun Ra affiliate and the lone album by an infamous French author.
The July edition of the column has been expanded to feature releases by a dozen artists, as whittling it down any further just seemed wrong. We’ve got a lot to get through, but as usual, it’s all killer, no filler.
Japanese psych-metal monsters Boris are celebrating the (somewhat belated) tenth anniversary of their 2005 classic Pink with a deluxe reissue on both double CD and triple vinyl, each including a bonus album of supplementary material recorded during the album’s sessions entitled Forbidden Songs. Pink was a turning point for the group, on which they fused their Melvins-indebted molasses grind with a more colorful, overblown fuzz-dream haze that places the album’s sound somewhere between the trippy garage-punk mania of early Yura Yura Teikoku and the warped fuzzbox delirium of My Bloody Valentine.
It’s the sound of a band demonstrating the breadth of their talents over one behemoth of an album rather than separating their multiple personalities between releases, as they had done in the past. Boris have quite a few superlative releases in their catalogue, but Pink‘s unrelenting power and sprawl has earned it a deserved place near the top of their discography.
11. Marc Barreca
(Palace Of Lights)
Sound artist and synthesist Marc Barreca is perhaps best known a member of K Leimer’s excellent Savant collective, whose dense polyrhythmic tapeworks saw reissue via RVNG back in 2015. Leimer’s own Palace Of Lights label has picked up activity following interest in the RVNG titles, and has seen fit to hit the archives and deliver a remastered and expanded edition of Barreca’s 1980 masterpiece Twilight.
Hovering in a psychotropic state somewhere between ambient music, new age meditation, and Fourth World ethnological forgery, Twilight shares similarities with the analogue pulsations of Cluster circa Zuckerzeit, the barren beatless soundscapes of Eno’s On Land, and a touch of multiphonic drone dissonance. Barreca conjures a menacing and evocative slice of avant ambience that still sounds startlingly modern.
FACT readers are likely to know producer Mika Vainio from his work as one half of pioneering abstract techno minimalists Pan Sonic, or via his equally visceral and evocative solo work, much of which has seen release under the pseudonym Ø. The reliable Boomkat Editions imprint has given one of Vainio’s key documents as Ø its first vinyl release with the reissue of 2005’s Kantamoinen, originally released on the Sähkö imprint.
Kantamoinen was a turning point for Vainio, who moved away from the clicks-and-cuts-derived rhythm beds of Ø’s early house/techno productions in favor of a more spacious and electro-organic textural palette; the album plays more like a sound painter’s sketchbook than a grand statement. These are études for environments, establishing many of the core themes that his subsequent work under this moniker would more elaborately explore. As a result, the album holds a unique position in Vainio’s discography, perhaps being his most luscious and emotional album. Any vinyl-hungry fan of evocative electronic ambient unfamiliar with this album’s hazy midday magic owes it to themselves to investigate Kantamoinen immediately.
9. Minako Yoshida
‘Midnight Driver’/’Town’ 12″
Singles don’t often feature in this column unless they’re heavyweight bangers long unavailable and fetching extortionate prices on the secondhand market. This 12″ by Japanese R&B queen Minako Yoshida follows that modus, as one of its tracks has long been a coveted disco funk bomb selling for triple-digit sums, while the other is a stellar deep cut which has never seen release as a single until now, buried near the end of an album overstuffed with a number of lackluster ballads.
‘Midnight Driver’ is a slow-burning, eight-minute chug which rides a burping bassline down a twilit highway, first rearing its head on 1980’s Monochrome LP, an album that’s sadly too true to its title, its rhythms mostly keeping a sluggish pace throughout. It’s that B-side, though, that brings the real heat. The original 1982 45rpm pressing of ‘Town’ single is one of my all-time favorite 12″ singles, a behemoth of city pop funk that blends a heavyweight groove with multitracked harmonies, strings arranged by city pop god Tatsuro Yamashita, a blistering sax solo by Mariah’s Yasuaki Shimizu, and traffic noise that escalates over the track’s coda and outro. It is, in essence, the definitive Japanese city pop song. (Monsters In Town, the album that the track opens, is no slouch, either.) Buy yourself a copy of this 12″ or save up $250 for an original. And no, I’m not selling mine.
8. Brother Ah
Move Ever Onward / Key To Nowhere
Bob Northern began his professional career as a jazz sideman playing with the likes of John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Andrew Hill, and Sun Ra, whose explorations with his Arkestra seemed to have lasting impact on Northern’s own work as a bandleader under the name Brother Ah. Northern’s Brother Ah material was first given a low-profile reissue back in 2002 during a renewed interest in the related BYG/Actuel free jazz/fire music axis, but sees a new resurrection via Manufactured Recordings, who’ve pressed up vinyl and CD editions of Ah’s first three albums, with a reported two or three additional records to see release in the coming months, some for the first time ever.
Of these albums, his debut Sound Awareness (featuring Max Roach and M’Boom) is great, but my preference lies in the following two albums. Move Ever Onward takes the cosmic space-age big band sound of Ra’s Arkestra – replete with chanting vocals, group improvisations and condensed soul grooves – and tethers it to a more earthbound textural palette. The followup, Key To Nowhere, adds celestial harp and an almost new age spirituality into the mix, leading to what may be his most focused statement on record, balancing spoken passages, haunting chants, deep instrumentals heavy on Eastern tonalities, and subtle dubwise frippery. While all three albums are stellar, more frugal consumers may want to begin with Key… and work backward. No matter where you begin your journey with Brother Ah, he’s bound to elevate you to new realms.
7. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
Songs Of Remembrance / Songs Of Forgiveness
Somewhere between the intricate guitar lullabies of The Durutti Column and William Basinski’s tape-hiss requiems, you’ll find these two swoon-inducing albums by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, first issued on blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em cassettes and now pressed up on vinyl as the inaugural releases on Pre-Echo.
Both Songs Of Remembrance and Songs Of Forgiveness feature slurred murmurs of slow-motion machine beats, clouds of tape hiss fog, and warbling melodic drone tones crafted on guitar and subtle electronics, though where Forgiveness offers extended sidelong hallucinations, the 14 concise sketches of Remembrance offer a slightly broader palette of tweaked pre-dawn dehydration. While much of Cantu-Ledesma’s solo work is stunning, these two albums are high on the list of must-hears among his discography for newcomers.
6. Various Artists
Sharon Signs To Cherry Red: Independent Women 1979-85
Kudos to Cherry Red for having the good sense to know that this collection was long overdue and the self-awareness to name it after an essential song which jestfully mocks its entire aesthetic! Sharon Signs To Cherry Red: Independent Women 1979-85 is a double-CD compilation (sorry nerds, no vinyl here) collecting seven years of women in DIY during the peak years of post-punk, with everything from scrappy garage and power pop delights to sullen exercises in that trademark Cherry Red earnestness (which the title track, by Norwich upstarts The Kamikaze Pilots, hilariously mocks), with handfuls of dub philosophy and bedsit synth-pop thrown in for good measure.
While a number of artists of the era like Dolly Mixture, The Mo-Dettes, Family Fodder, Marine Girls, and Vivien Goldman are featured, it’s often the lesser-known groups (who typically only made a single or two before vanishing) who shine most brightly. Key tracks of the era by The Petticoats, The Avocados, Twa Toots, and A Craze feature alongside one-offs that only the most dedicated Messtheticists would recognize. These two discs offer up a sprawling yet vivid portrait of just how revolutionary the DIY postpunk movement was for women in the UK, and while many of these songs definitely show their age, there’s a timelessness to the sentiments expressed that extends from the girl-group era up to the pop present day.
Houdini / Stoner Witch / Stag
While Melvins disciples Boris appear lower down the list this month, the original sludge-rock miscreants get a prime showing thanks to these three unlikely vinyl reissues of the band’s oft-canonized major label trilogy, first recorded for Atlantic Records in the mid-1990s and now seeing a more affordable and easily obtainable vinyl issue thanks to Jack White’s Third Man Records, of all labels.
1993’s Houdini, regarded by many to be the Melvins’ crowning achievement (it isn’t, but that’s a discussion for another day), and its freakier 1994 followup Stoner Witch make use of their bigger recording budgets to add as much crushing weight and slippery slime to their assault as they could manage. Both albums, while a bit schizophrenic, offer up songs that have become canonized classics in the Melvins canon, working through the many speeds, spits, and shreds that the band had up that point experimented with – you get post-hardcore Melvins, glacially slow Melvins, obscure dark ambient Melvins, chugging intelligent metal Melvins, and even Melvins as leaders of the Kiss Army.
None of that really prepares you for the true brainfuck that is 1996’s Stag, though, which adds horns from Fishbone, electric sitar, wildman backporch blues, and some of the band’s most technicolor and psychedelic songwriting. It’s a personal favorite, and while perhaps not the first place I’d begin (that would be either of the two preceding albums, or Ozma), it’s one of their best. Between these new pressings and last year’s reissues of the band’s essential Boner Records catalogue, it’s a good time to be a Melvins fan, or at least to crack your skull giving them a try.
4. Dudley Moore
While much is known of Dudley Moore’s decades of comic mastery, few people outside of the UK seem to know of his prowess as a pianist and composer. His many records for the Decca label featuring his jazz trio are all well worth your time if you dig the likes of Thelonius Monk, Erroll Garner, and Art Tatum, as Moore interprets classic standards and sporadic originals with swinging gusto and perverse delight. It’s his soundtrack work (often for his own starring-role pictures), though, which shines the greatest light on Moore’s talents as a composer and player, and none is more entrancing and engaging than his score for Stanley Donen’s 1967 Faustian comedy Bedazzled, which featured Moore and comedic partner Peter Cook in starring roles.
Bedazzled places Moore’s trio alongside a full orchestra and the occasional side-trip into psych-pop territory (the film’s title song has been covered over the years by artists from Nick Cave to Bongwater). Much like the film itself, the album offers up one of the most vivid portraits of ’60s swinging London culture, filled with lush moods, breezy bossa novas, piano trio jazz, and some after-hours grooves. The Bedazzled score has been bootlegged a number of times over the years, but Jonny Trunk has put together the first legitimatel reissue on vinyl, complete with a stunning new sleeve and some supplementary comedy material on a bonus CD.
Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda
This is an album I didn’t expect to ever see back in the racks. Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda, the 1975 debut album and samba soul classic by Brazilian songwriter and Black Rio figurehead Hyldon, finally gets a new vinyl pressing via Polysom, which in recent years has given new life to some rare and expensive classics of Brazilian music. Often unfairly relegated to a footnote in discussion of the famed samba soul don Tim Maia, Hyldon was, alongside the equally brilliant Cassiano (whose three essential albums are also long overdue for re-release), one of the most important figures in bringing an increased interest in Afro-American soul music to Brazilian audiences during the 1970s.
Ushering in a new movement of Afro-conscious Brazilian musicians, which helped revolutionize the sounds of MPB (Música popular brasileira, or Brazilian pop music) for years to come, Na Rua, Na Chuva, Na Fazenda is a startling change of aesthetic from a man who’d gotten his start in one of the many Jovem Guarda beat combos which sprang up during the tropicalist movement in Brazil. Here, he explores an expansive, emotive vista of gentle but kinetic grooves, flexing his muscle as a hired songwriter and producer at Polydor for a number of chart acts and getting the label to finance a solo album that shone a light on his many talents. The record often plays with an aesthetic akin to the classic Stevie Wonder albums like Talking Book and Innervisions, but infused with generous helpings of Rio sunshine and saudade, not to mention his own nimble guitar work and the support of samba soul heavyweights Azymuth as his backing band. It’s a landmark album in Brazilian music history, and one that has aged with more grace than many of Maia’s recordings, which often suffer from dated aesthetics and song choices. If you dig those soulful sunset beach vibes, this is the one you need this month.
2. Various Artists
More Better Days
I’ve long been a huge champion of Better Days, an imprint of Nippon Columbia active from the late ‘70s through the 1980s which gave voice to a number of talented young musicians and composers getting their start among the jazz and fusion scenes in Japan, but whose visions quickly led them on journeys far beyond the basic confines of commercial jazz and rock music. Better Days was a hub for innovation, where artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto explored synthetic zen visions, saxophonist and composer Yasuaki Shimizu led solo excursions through multiculturalist soundscapes (and brought Mariah together for one last Fourth World masterpiece, percussionist Pecker explored dub music with the help of some of Jamaica’s top session players, and a collective calling themselves Colored Music hot-wired their jazz-fusion dreams to a proto-house ‘Heartbeat’ to create one of the first true examples of what could be called “future jazz.”
Those are just the examples I’ve covered in past columns. DJ and producer Chee Shimizu of Japanese balearic groovers Discosession and the Organic Music collective has now compiled an illuminating introduction to Better Days for its parent label Nippon Columbia, guaranteed to be your new Balearic audio handbook for months to come. Its two CDs (or two double-LP sets) each focus on a theme, the first highlighting the more avant synthwave and song-oriented experiments, the second on multiculti jazz, boogie, and fusion-oriented titles. It’s one of the most eclectic yet unified label compilations I’ve heard in ages, and even as someone who has collected the label for over a decade and a half, I’m thankful for Shimizu to have unearthed some impossibly rare gems. While not everything on Better Days sparkled with as much magic as these cuts, the compilation focuses on both underground hits and extreme deep cuts, as any worthy compendium should. It’s lovely to see the label finally getting the due it has long deserved.
1. Michel Houellebecq
Regardless of what you make of his curmudgeonly public persona, his sometimes ire-inducing statements, or even the quality of his novels, the lone album by infamous French poet and author Michel Houellebecq is a surprising masterpiece. Recorded between 1997 and ’99 when Houellebecq was writing Les Particules Élémentaires, and released in 2000 under the artistic direction and production of Bertrand Burgalat (who also released the album on his Tricatel label), Presence Humaine features the writer reciting selections of his poetry, much of which had been written prior to his controversial work as a novelist, anchored by Burgalat’s sleek psych-prog arrangements and occasional flourishes of neon-lit Kraftwerkian robotics.
Easy comparisons can be made to Serge Gainsbourg’s nicotine-stained 1970s monologues, but musically the record owes more to the likes of Leo Ferre’s blistering collaboration with French proggers Zoo, or late-period Nino Ferrer, who also stitched tales of cynical romance and existential dread into musical arrangements owing to soul, psych-rock, and elegiac organ harmonics. According to Burgalat, the album was a complete ass-ache to record, with a stubborn Houellebecq showing up late for sessions, not paying attention to cues, and making unreasonable demands to record a duet with Kraftwerk, among other shenanigans. The experience was apparently so traumatic for Burgalat that he refused to reissue that album for years; it sold only 15,000 copies upon its initial release (nowadays a sum to be proud of, but in 2000 considered a failure), and eventually began fetching prices of around €50 for a CD!
In celebration of Tricatel’s twentieth anniversary, Burgalat has had a change of heart and, for the first time ever, has reissued the album on limited vinyl and CD with new sleeve art. The CD edition also includes two bonus tracks featuring Houellebecq’s only other recorded songs made in collaboration with the esteemed Jean-Claude Vannier, of Melody Nelson and L’Enfant D’Assassin De Mouches infamy. While the Vannier cuts are excellent, they distract somewhat from Burgalat’s masterful atmospheres, which fuse the gentle sensuality of Air’s Moon Safari with the failed prog experiments that same group would explore on their own 2000 followup 10,000 Hz Legend. Presence Humaine laid the groundwork for what Burgalat would perfect on his own solo debut, The Sssound Of Mmmusic, and in the process created a unique album that is both of its time and beyond it.
This has long been a desert island album for me, one that has traveled with me across states, nations, and countless relationships, and which I’d long assumed would perhaps be the only record on my desert island list never to see a vinyl pressing. The fact I can now also pass Presence Humaine‘s bleak modernist beauty on to new listeners is the real reason it’s my top pick this month. Not long after its release, Houellebecq went on to become an enfant terrible in the literary world, while Burgalat maintained his quiet dignity and turned to Robert Wyatt as his next collaborator. For a brief moment in 2000, though, Houellebecq’s human presence shone through, and this snapshot of that calm before the storm is priceless.
Mikey IQ Jones is on Twitter.