From Japanese ambient to funky gospel, from post-punk to electrified jazz-rock, it’s been a strong and diverse year for both reissues and compilations…
Mars Audiac Quintet
Operating in a high-concept, retro-cool world all of their own making, Stereolab’s mesmerising third studio album formed part of the first wave of releases of a long-overdue reissue campaign. Lovingly repackaged as a triple, expanded and remastered, Mars Audiac Quintet displays the Labs at their joyful space-age pop peak.
19 Joy Division
Joy Division’s dark debut set the gold standard for post-punk in the late 70s. Poet-frontman Ian Curtis’ themes of alienation, and producer Martin Hannet’s sonic innovation created a peerless art statement, the perfect artefact of its times. The 40th anniversary edition was issued on ruby red vinyl and was housed in an alternative white sleeve.
18 Yabby You
Walls Of Jerusalem
Finally rescued from the archives, 1976’s wonderful Walls Of Jerusalem is a long-lost roots classic that brings together two of reggae’s giants, namely producer Yabby You and legendary dub master King Tubby. The original album is a sweetly soulful affair, and is keenly augmented by a second set of delay-heavy dub versions.
17 The Kinks
The Kinks’ seventh studio album showcases some of Ray Davies’ sharpest story-telling songs. A concept album about one man’s decision to emigrate from Britain as it enters the common market, this 50th anniversary release remains as pertinent as ever. The 2LP vinyl version contains BBC session cuts and some lost Dave Davies solo cuts.
Capsule Losing Contact
The band that once described their music as ‘experimental depressive music’ resurface with the lavish boxset treatment. The set gathers the two albums (1998’s Stratosphere and 2000’s Contemporary Movement) and one EP (1999’s 1975) they released for Up Records and adds the Transmission, Flux EP and a handful of rare unreleased tracks.
15 Various Artists
The Time For Peace Is Now
The second instalment of Luaka Bop’s World Spirituality Classics series showcases gospel groups from the 1970s. There is deliverance and self-betterment to be had here, for sure, but it comes with a funky beat, deep soul groove and not-so distant echoes of Curtis Mayfield. Worth it for The Staple Singers’ version of We Got A Race To Run alone.
14 Don Cherry
Freewheeling trumpeter Don Cherry’s hypnotic fusion masterpeice skilfully weds Indian, African and Arabic music to Miles Davis’ electrified jazz-rock innovations. Released in 1975, this is Brown Rice’s first appearance on vinyl for more than four decades, and its outsider spiritual jazz deserves a much wider audience. A thrilling album.
13 Alice Clark
Huge credit and thanks are due to reissue label Wewantsounds for making one of soul’s longest lost and most desired classics available again. First released in 1972 on Mainstream Records, Clark’s much sought-after self-titled disc has always been something of a Holy Grail for cratediggers. For those content with a reissue, the search is over.
12 Bob Dylan
Travelin’ Thru 1967-1969
So deep was Dylan’s well of talent that we’re 15 albums into his incredible Legacy series and no dip in quality is even remotely evident. This fascinating set focuses on previously unavailable recordings made with country legend Johnny Cash and unreleased nuggets from the John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait sessions.
11 Mark Hollis
The recently departed Talk Talk man’s first and only solo album failed to receive a vinyl release back in 1998, with only a later indifferent German pressing making do for his legion of fans. All of which makes the reissue of this beautiful, low-key and intimately minimalist collection of songs all the more welcome. An affecting listen.
10 The Pop Group
The antagonistic Bristolians took post-punk to its logical limits and beyond on their ludicrously seminal debut album. Y is a wilfully singular and aggressively radical document of the late 70s that combines discordant funk with skronky free jazz and abrasive dub. The limited edition boxset to mark its 40th anniversary is a thrilling artefact.
09 Tubby Hayes Quartet
Grits, Beans And Greens
Tubby Hayes was a well-respected presence on the UK jazz scene in the 60s. Subtitled The Lost Fontana Studio Sessions 1969, this never previously issued, ‘lost’ classic finds the jazzman at the sensational peak of his acrobatic playing powers. Perhaps someone should check down the back of the sofa at the Fontana studios more often.
08 A Tribe Called Quest
Hailing from Queens, New York, A Tribe Called Quest are one of hip-hop’s most influential groups. Midnight Marauders was the band’s third album (1993), and wistfully represents the artful innovation and sense of wonder from the golden age before the gangsters took over. A true classic from back in the day, which no home should be without.
07 Popol Vuh
The Essential Albums
Under the guruship of visionary keyboardist Florian Fricke, Popol Vuh have held a sway over generations of neo-classical, ambient and electronica artists. This hefty boxset brings together six early albums of mind-expanding meditations, including the joyous world-beat textures of prime work Einsjäger Und Siebenjäger and a couple of haunting soundtracks (Aguirre, Nosferatu) created for friend of the band, Werner Herzog.
06 Various Artists
Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
Light In The Attic
The Seattle label’s ability to put together a killer anthology is unparalleled, and with this cohesive collection of ambient-leaning Japanese electronic music the happy knack has been pulled off yet again. While the tracks on this 3LP compilation date back over 30 years, the feel is eerily contemporary.
05 The Velvet Underground
The Matrix Tapes
It’s the first time on vinyl for this historic set from 1969 that captures the post-John Cale incarnation of the cult New Yorkers in spectacular form. This is VU V.2, and minus the experimental hissings and white noise, they transform into a sensational live band, with a locked-in groove and edge all of their own. Originally released as a CD-only boxset, you can now own the 43 tracks across no fewer than eight LPs of splendour.
04 Gene Clark
The original Byrd’s fourth album was a glorious failure, all but disowned by its record company on release in 1974. Branded by the critics as an exercise in bloated studio excess, it was the final nail in Clark’s coffin as a music biz contender. Yet, as is often the way, No Other has subsequently undergone a serious critical reappraisal. Mixing sorrowful country with breezy LA rock, the album is now garnering the appreciation it has always deserved. Not only that, but it’s the recipient of a super-expansive boxset courtesy of 4AD.
03 Brian Eno
Reissued to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landings, the prolonged edition of Eno’s timeless masterpiece Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks not only contains a fully remastered version of the 1983 release, but also contains a further 11 additional, newly composed tracks. These supplementary compositions blend beautifully with the album’s originals to seamlessly develop Apollo’s expanding universe. A work of gravity-defying genius from the godfather of ambient music.
In many ways, Abbey Road was the perfect album for The Beatles to end their career on. As this excellent reissue ably demonstrates, they were still in their prime, and capable of songwriting exploits other bands could only envy. They were also way ahead of their time in the studio. It’s not quite as expansive as The Beatles (The White Album), but Abbey Road is all about concision. The original album has been remixed/remastered expertly by Giles Martin and Sam Okell, and every alternative take offers fresh insight.
What Warner have done with the first true deluxe edition of a Prince album is nothing short of perfection. It’s pretty much the platonic ideal of a vinyl boxset. It takes 10 LPs and a Blu-Ray DVD, but here is everything from the CD/streaming edition of 1999 on six hours of vinyl. As Prince’s estate manager Michael Howe told LLV earlier in the year: “We’re big fans of vinyl. It’s a more satisfying experience so, when it came to making everything available, we said, ‘Great, let’s make the vinyl boxset complete’.”
Howe’s admirable attitude helps make 1999 the year’s best reissue. Whereas the Purple Rain reissue from 2015 was a frustrating compromise, the 23 demos and alternative takes on 1999 show the rumours of how much brilliant music Prince was making in the 1980s are true. Alongside a more intimate version of International Lover and a breathless early run-through of Purple Rain rarity Possessed are 17 songs Prince never released at all.
You’ll get lost in those demos for days on end, and they comprise just four of the 11 discs in this remarkable set. A homecoming Detroit show a month after the album’s release is an absolute joy, as you can sense Prince realising he’s finally about to become a superstar in a performance that’s teasing and playful even by his standards. This goes double for a Christmas gig in Houston on the Blu-Ray, where you can see just how otherworldly Prince’s brilliance was in 1982.
If there is a small quibble to be had, it’s that the B-sides and remixes discs shouldn’t be ordered so strictly chronologically – hopefully, Warner will look to spread the songs out a bit next time.
With Howe having confirmed to LLV that similarly thorough expanded Prince albums are on the way, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not they’ll be released in chronological order. Whatever happens, 1999 is a great album to start with. Not only are there so many wonderful extras, but the original album is a masterpiece and, in hindsight, an odd phenomenon.
Brilliant singles as the title track and Little Red Corvette are, how did a 70-minute double album become the one to make Prince stellar? The short answer is because there’s something to keep every music fan of 1982 happy. After all, we know 1999 could have been a 6LP studio album and it still wouldn’t have been a second too long.
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