Top Reissues: 2007
ven though the year isn’t quite done with yet, there have been countless great reissues worth mentioning. I mean, it was all better before we were born, right? That’s what they tell me at least.
The Trees Community – The Christ Tree
Like Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, its most complementary cinematic counterpart, The Christ Tree doesn't grant its audience easy passage. Furthermore, it doesn't dress its topics—spirituality, faith, devotion—in Hollywood spectacle or bellicose preaching. The journey isn't a fairy tale, it's a harrowing saga, because soul-searching doesn't necessarily mean that, in the end, you will find your soul. Unlike the Arcade Fire, who thump their bibles until they're neon, the Trees Community open the book and absorb the pages, and in so doing chronicle their discovery by displaying its worldliness, adorning it in sitars, kotos, hand drums, flutes, harps, and the most frail, HUMAN voices heard in eons. An album that is both utterly timeless and utterly of its time, The Christ Tree, along with three additional discs of unheard material, does what most Christian music fails to: it refuses to exclude non-believers by acknowledging other cultures, and more importantly, respecting them.
John Fahey – Sea Changes & Coelacanths: A Young Person’s Guide to John Fahey
Byron Coley, in this set’s liners, writes that “there is no New John anymore; no more Old John.” Well, he’s logically correct: Fahey’s graveyard dead. He should have taken the statement a bit farther, though: There was never really Old or New John. New John was always Old; the Old was always presented in brand New ways. So, raise a glass to neither: John was always at his best with a leg hanging over either side of the fence.
Jimmy Eat World - Clarity
The reissue of Clarity doesn’t celebrate any relevant anniversary (it was released in 1999), there’s only one new song on it and you can get the original on Amazon for less than five bucks. Amongst people who generally care about reissues, it has almost no cred whatsoever and it managed to sell enough copies to get them dropped. Old folks talk about back in my day…but eventually people got tired of being hesitant to label Jimmy Eat World “emo” because it might insult Ian Mackaye, and likewise, no one waited for some sort of Pinkerton-esque critical validation before calling Clarity an instant classic. Talk about the Pixies, Nirvana and Gang Of Four all you want, but in modern rock, there’s likely no record that’s been ripped off more lucratively than this.
Botch – American Nervoso
Botch's two full-length albums both got reissues this year. The Deluxe Edition of 2000's We Are the Romans will understandably get more love; it's one of the greatest albums of the past 10 years. However, the reissue of 1999's American Nervoso is more interesting. It accomplishes the highest goal of a reissue: recasting an album in a different light. Once merely the stepping stone to its successor, the powerfully remixed and remastered American Nervoso is a startlingly confident statement after callow early 7"s. The record revolutionized hardcore punk with more metal, more angles, and more smarts. All those swoop-do'd metalcore bands lurching through caustic dissonance and math meters? They got it from here.
Johnny Lunchbreak – Appetizer/Soup’s On / The Four Mints – Gently Down Your Stream / Propinquity – S/T
Academic studies are famous for burying the most interesting results in footnotes, and it seems that’s what the already deep-crate-digging dudes from Numero Group had in mind with their Asterisk imprint. Focusing on full albums by obscure acts—the first batch of 1970s relics includes Boulder folkies Propinquity, Columbus vocal quartet the Four Mints, and Connecticut pop-punks Johnny Lunchbreaks—and wraps them up in import-style gatefold glossies. The Lunchbreak is the best of the three, a post-Lou Reed pre-Tom Verlaine rave-up that claps and struts and harmonizes like punk-rock wedding music. Propinquity are front-porch orchestral folk; the Mints make actual wedding music, in that “everybody’s getting down to ‘Keep on Loving You’”-way. On Lunchbreak’s exultant closer, Andrew Merritt yells, “You took the best day of my years!” Asterisk shines them up and hands them right back.
The Traveling Wilburys - Volume 1 and Volume 3
First way to enjoy the Wilbury Twist: ignore Volume 3, which is the superstar jerkoff that Volume 1's pre-release detractors no doubt expected. For many years this collaboration between aging rockstars/hair casualties George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty retained a mystique totally incompatible with the session's improvisatory nature: it was for many years one of the few out of print multi-platinum albums. Do you remember that "Cosby Show" episode in which Cliff Huxtable, on vacation, made bubbles whilst playing a ukelele? Dylan's ridiculous sex jive on "Dirty World," Lynne's Kraftwerk-esque synth arpeggio on "Margarita," and the here-we-all-are strumming of "End of the Line" summon this vibe. However, Orbison's "Not Alone Anymore" is another matter entirely: as the only member of the collective with the vocal chops and gravitas equal to his reputation, his wobbly vibrato reminds his four co-stars that reputations are made by risking foolishness in unearthing pity and terror.
The Damned - Damned Damned Damned
Some facts: The Damned issued the first U.K. punk single and LP, were the first to hit the top 40, the first to tour America, the first to break up, and the first to reform. For some reason, despite these undisputed truths, they get very little respect, perhaps because of releases like this three-disc expanded edition of their incendiary debut (which, for the record, pisses all over the debuts by the Clash, the Pistols, and pretty much everyone else), reissuing the same material over and over in a seemingly endless cash-in effort. Regardless, this reasonably priced set gives you the remastered album, pre-LP demos, non-LP singles, B-sides, Peel sessions, and two complete concerts, including the band’s first ever gig from ‘76. If everyone would just buy this like they should, they wouldn’t have to keep reissuing it, now would they?
Sly & The Family Stone - A Whole New Thing / Dance to the Music / Life / Stand! / There’s a Riot Going On / Fresh / Small Talk
That bit at the end of "Stand!" which sounds like a different song, and in fact is, might just be the best 45 seconds of music ever, and it's never sounded better. The organ riffs and brass stabs in "I Want To Take You Higher"? Amazing. The murky recorded-over-recorded-over-recorded-over fuzz of "Luv 'n' Haight"? Present and correct, clearer but no less essentially murky, somehow. 2007 finally, thankfully, saw possibly America's greatest ever musician get the proper, full-on, bonus tracks and artfully-remastered re-release treatment. Buy all the albums together in a box or pick them up individually. Three months later the greatest ever Greatest Hits compilation got re-released, too. The "bah-bah-bah-bah"s in "Everybody Is a Star"? Joyous. Truly some of the greatest music ever.
Magazine - Real Life / Secondhand Daylight / The Correct Use of Soap / Magic, Murder & the Weather
Still in print and lacking any specific anniversary as an excuse, the only sensible explanation for this reissue campaign is an attempt to force Magazine into more people's lives. With material of such distinction, it's a noble and just cause. Even though the bonus tracks are cribbed from existing compilations, the opening triumvirate of albums are as splendid a run as you're ever likely to hear. By degrees restless, taut, chilly and devastatingly literate, Howard Devoto's post-punk supergroup set the tone for countless inferior copyists. The fourth and final effort? Perhaps best left to completists, but Devoto quickly bounced back with a rejuvenated solo release—also reissued this year. No excuses; this stuff is vital.
Various Artists - Folksongs of Illinois, Vol. 1 / Folksongs of Illinois, Vol. 2: Fiddlers
The Illinois Humanities Council's showcasing of the state's musical traditions started brilliantly with the first two Folksongs of Illinois discs. Volume one goes for breadth while emphasizing immigrant presences with corridos, kolos, and other imported fare. Even with this inclusiveness, the compilation avoids feeling disjointed. The second volume focuses on fiddlers and asserts the fallacy that these musicians belong "with the homespun and the roughhewn." Covering an astonishing range of styles, the disc brings out elements of each genre through sequential juxtaposition while highlighting the fiddle. The liner notes for both discs are exceptional, both scholarly and readable, but none of the above would be half as important if the music wasn't so simply enjoyable.
[Pop Matters Review]
Fennesz – Endless Summer
As incredibly head-clearing as “Happy Audio” is, the brief “Endless” seems like a more fitting closer to this exercise in replacing nostalgia with fuzz; “Badminton Girl” ain't so bad either. Some may question the need to reissue such a recent record, but have you seen many copies floating around? The sound wasn't the kind of mess that pleads for a remastering, but it's nice to have what is presumably a closer take to what happens inside our man Christian's head. It was a classic, it still is, and now it's six minutes long; for once, that's a good thing. Hopefully more people can get their hands on it this time.
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen / Songs From a Room / Songs of Love and Hate
For an artist who is commonly held to be more about the lyrics than the music, this sprucing up sure is welcome; the jew's harp on Songs from a Room is no longer dorky, and Cohen's first two albums in general sound more and more as if the sparseness is a deliberate (and well chosen) effect than a paucity forced on a guy who wasn't really into music in the first place. He was still finding his feet, but there's more there than you might expect. Songs of Love and Hate meanwhile is his most fraught masterpiece, and only benefits from the sensation that, on “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” he's breathing down your neck.
Fire Engines - Hungry Beat
Championed by fellow Scotsmen Franz Ferdinand, this short-lived quartet struck an untidy balance between Gang of Four's clinical disco-punk, James Chance's dirty No Wave boogie, and the grouchy ennui of Josef K. Acute Records' Hungry Beat collects the singles and mini-album the Engines released in their eighteen-month active period in 1980 and 1981, effectively demoting last year's Codex Teenage Premonition rarities comp on Domino to second-class status. Standouts like "Candyskin," "Discord," and the remastered "Big Gold Dream" all sound like products of their time and place, but after twenty-six years and a couple post-punk deaths and revivals, they're still fascinatingly carefree confections.
Betty Davis – Betty Davis / They Say I’m Different
Both Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different are extravagant slabs of meaty, heavy, wall-to-wall fonk, by anyone's definition of the term. Whatever might actually dangle between an artist’s legs, there have been precious few in the canon of soul, rock, or funk to realize albums with bad-ass balls like these. Remastered with a light but sure hand and bolstered with unheard tracks (for the first record) and not-so-alternate alternate takes (for the second), they are essential documents for anyone interested in hard-edged black music or potent female-led bands.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2007-10-30