The Agit Reader

Top 10 Reissues

December 30th, 2015  |  by Staff  |  1 Comment

Pere Ubu, Elitism for the People#10
Pere Ubu
Elitism for the People 1975–1978
Fire Records

Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas once told me, “I am pretentious and I revel in my pretensions, but I don’t like elitism, particularly.” The title of this boxset of Ubu’s earliest work flies in the face of that assertion and is no doubt more than a little tongue-in-cheek. But whatever you make of the moniker, this set contains some of the most vital music ever laid to wax: Pere Ubu’s first two studio albums, The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, both released in 1978, and the collected singles that the band released on its Hearpen label leading up to those records. It also includes a newly unearthed live recording of a show at Max’s Kansas City in 1977. And though these studio recordings have been re-released in several forms over the years, they’ve been newly digitally remastered to meet Pere Ubu’s excruciatingly high standards. As such, cuts like “Non-allignment Pact,” “Street Waves”, and the title from The Modern Dance have never sounded better. Same for “Final Solution,” the second greatest song ever recorded (“Sister Ray,” being the first). While anyone not intimately familiar with these records has no good reason not to pick this up, the attraction for longtime fans is the new live material, which captures the band in its gleaming, glorious infancy. In short, this is the definitive version of Pere Ubu’s defining period. SS


Cocteau Twins, The Pink Opaque#9
Cocteau Twins
The Pink Opaque

In the definitive tome on 4AD Records, Facing the Other Way, author Martin Aston spends most of the book’s 650 pages detailing the highs and lows of the label’s bellwether band, the Cocteau Twins. It’s debatable, but in retrospect label founder Ivo Watts-Russell was absolutely right about the enigmatic sound Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie created. Without the duo, the term “ethereal” may never have existed in music, and it’s easy to see how their minimal, yet expansive, dark lullabies have spawned an entire genre. With their first three albums only available as imports, American audiences weren’t formally introduced to the Cocteaus until 1986 with the release of The Pink Opaque, a best-of compiled from that early work. As opposed to later albums, The Pink Opaque found the Cocteau Twins at their most primitive, not yet insulated by a full band and colorful arrangements, and arguably at their peak of vulnerability. KJE


Chris Knox
Captured Tracks

Tall Dwarfs
Captured Tracks

While it’s certainly arguable that not every release in Captured Tracks’ new reissue partnership with famed New Zealand label Flying Nun is essential (no offense Bird Nest Roys), certainly the deluxe re-releases of the Tall Dwarfs’ Weeville and Chris Knox’s second solo album, Seizure, are cause for celebration. Knox has proven himself one of the most important figures in the history of New Zealand rock music, and his work with the Tall Dwarfs (alongside collaborator Alec Bathgate) and as a solo artist nicely represent the dichotomy of experimentation and pop hooks that marks the island’s best. Whether you’re new to the whole kiwi scene, you slept on buying these the first time around, or you’re just replacing some battered classics, there’s no argument, this pair of LP reissues is essential. NK


A Tribe Called Quest
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
Legacy Recordings

A Tribe Called Quest, and specifically their first album, was my gateway into hip-hop. As a Red Hot Chili Peppers–obsessed freshman in high school, I didn’t think hip-hop had much to offer me—that is, until I heard “Can I Kick It?” With its prominent use of Lou Reed’s already great “Walk on the Wild Side,” once you hear Q-Tip and Phife Dog come in on the beat, a feeling that anything is possible (in music) washes over you. That universal vibe holds up throughout the entire album. From “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” to “Bonita Applebum” to “Ham ‘n’ Eggs,” Tribe wrote songs that are equal parts poignant, crass, goofy and peculiar in both a lyrical and production standpoint. As the 25th anniversary edition proves, People’s Instinctive Travels still sounds as fresh as ever and might very well still be the hip-hop answer to the closed-minded listener. ML


Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Straight to Video#6
Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments
Straight to Video
Straight to Video Records

In terms of critical (and most definitely commercial) acclaim, Ron House probably isn’t going to ascend much higher than where he is right now, which is more or less where he’s always been for the past couple decades. And that’s just fine. Those of us familiar with the Columbus indie mainstay’s barstool wisdom and punk poetics consider ourselves lucky. The guy really is a national treasure, but for a country that doesn’t know what to make of such a gift. Straight to Video is the second Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments full-length (following the major label–affiliated debut, Bait and Switch), and it originally came out only on CD in 1997 on Anyway Records. I’ll make this easy: it’s fucking great, okay? And for all the talk of TJSA being lo-fi and gritty, Straight to Video has some seriously catchy songwriting and is a reminder of House’s authentic pop sensibilities. Now it’s been reissued on vinyl, for the very first time too. So get with the program, if you’re not already. NK


Sisters of Mercy
First and Last and Always
Rhino Records

Arguably one of the most goth things an artist that helped define the genre can do, Sisters of Mercy’s Andrew Eldrich shunned the goth term, while the black-clad legions embraced the British band’s sound and leather and sunglasses aesthetic. Like the Cure’s dark melodic pop and Bauhaus’ post-punk strains—two bands that also deny the goth tag—Sisters of Mercy carved out its own niche in the ’80s with its layered, moody rock & roll, defined in part by Eldrich’s deep resonating vocals and the mechanical beats of Doctor Avalanche, his drum machine. The reissue of 1985’s First and Last and Always as a digital release and vinyl boxset includes the iconic album that gave us the icy gloom of “Black Planet” and the haunting “Marian,” as well as three 12-inch singles: “Body and Soul,” “No Time to Cry,” and “Walk Away.” The band’s career-defining Floodland (1987) has also been re-released digitally and as a four-record set with the singles that were among the band’s most popular and enduring: “Lucretia My Reflection” with its mesmerizing bassline; “This Corrosion,” a bombastic triumph featuring a choir intro that served as a siren song to club dance floors, and “Dominion/Mother Russia,” a track that holds up even with its Cold War references and saxophone solo. These re-releases are reason for Simon Pegg’s character in The World’s End and goths everywhere to rejoice (well, as much as goths can allow themselves to outwardly show happiness). JR


Bob Dylan
The Cutting Edge 1965–1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12
Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings

This set is so good that six discs seem like not nearly enough; I wish I could afford the 18-disc version. In the 14 months covered in this set, Dylan recorded Bring it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, three of his best albums and among the most important records in rock music history. The Cutting Edge lets you listen in to how it was done, as Dylan learns and reforms his ideas about his music. Iconic songs like “She Belongs to Me,” “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” and “Visions of Johanna” stretch and fold in on themselves as Bob switches from acoustic to full-band arrangements, switches up the tempos, and searches for just the right groove. Over the course of the these astonishing sessions, Dylan’s lyrics become richer and more surreal, and he transmogrifies his voice to embody his ever-shifting identity. This is as close as you’ll come to hearing a genius inventing himself. MS


Various Artists
Ork Records: New York, New York
Numero Group

Numero Group did lovers of rock history a huge favor this year with their compilation from the short-lived, vitally important Ork Records. This snapshot of the scrappy little label bursts out of the gate with classics: The Feelies’ slab of hooky weirdness, “Fa Ce La,” sandwiched between the original single versions of Television’s cracked epic “Little Johnny Jewel” and Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation,” which is still striking in its louche swagger. But beyond the punk staples, there’s a strong power-pop vein with contributions from Chris Stamey (with The Erasers and backed by The dB’s), Peter Holsapple, and legendarily lost band Prix. It also features charming curios like writers’ Mick Farren and Lester Bangs’ cuts and tantalizing glimpses of a proposed Rolling Stones tribute like Alex Chilton’s sardonic “The Singer Not the Song” and Richard Lloyd’s “Connection” played on the edge of falling apart. New York, New York is a Rosetta Stone for what became NYC punk that still sounds fresh and sharp. RS


Various Artists
Punk 45: Burn Rubber City, Burn!
Punk 45: Extermination Nights in the Sixth City
Soul Jazz Records

When it comes to punk, the story usually focuses on New York and London, with L.A. not far behind and some begrudging nods to Detroit. But if you’re an Ohioan, you will inevitably have a conversation where you try to explain the legacy of the state’s bands. Despite the fact that Ohio bands have made some noise, they’re still seen as outliers, so these compilations—one focusing on Cleveland and the other on Akron—are yet another attempt to set the record straight. Extermination Nights features such relatively well-known names as Pere Ubu, electric eels, The Pagans, and Rocket from the Tombs, while Burn Rubber City, Burn!, features Devo, The Waitresses, and Tin Huey as the marquee names. But where the compilations shine are the focus on the smaller bands that were likely mainly remembered by local fans, but never really broke out of the Midwest. It also shows a lot of sonic diversity and that the bands who did break out weren’t unicorns but part of a scene. But more importantly, the songs speak louder than any thinkpiece. DSH


Close Lobsters, Firestation Towers#1
Close Lobsters
Firestation Towers 1986–1989
Fire Records

Named after the track the band contributed to NME’s landmark C-86 compilation, this set includes the two studio albums and singles collection the Close Lobsters released during their all too brief initial run from 1986 to 1989. The 39 songs on those three records reveal just how perfectly the Scottish band encapsulated the jittery energy and buoyant pop that came to epitomize the so-called C-86 aesthetic. But though the band gained recognition on both sides of the pond before calling it quits, they’ve largely been forgotten in the intervening years, a fact this set will hopefully help correct. Indeed, listening to cuts like “Just Too Bloody Stupid,” “In Spite of These Times,” and “Lets Make Some Plans,” I feel like I’ve been missing out all these years. Tracks such as these are the perfect combination of guitar jangle, wry wit, and frenetic zip, and reveal the Close Lobsters to have been on par with the best of their peers. With the band having reconvened and promising more music in the near future, it’s a good time to appreciate its stunning past. SS

One Comment

  1. Gonzax says:

    Close Lobsters at nº 1??? About ***** time!!!

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