The Agit Reader

Top 10 Reissues of 2016

January 5th, 2017  |  by Stephen Slaybaugh

White Zombie
It Came from NYC
Numero Group

Vocalist Rob Zombie and bassist Sean Yseult churned through five guitarists and two drummers during the band’s initial four years which are covered on this meticulous (typical of Numero) collection. “Gentleman Junkie” and “Black Friday,” from White Zombie’s debut 7-inch, reveal the first glimmers of the self-aware wink and the head-bang/hip-swivel combo that the band rode to major-label stardom, while Wharton Tiers’ rich production on their first full-length, Soul-Crusher, presents the band’s gnarly vision for itself in 3-D for the first time. Zombie’s vocals garner their power as Yseult’s singable riffs find a foil in Tom Five’s guitar snarls and lock in with Ivan de Prume’s drumming. Bill Laswell’s work on Make Them Die Slowly sometimes obscures the catchier riffs, but on that album and the God of Thunder EP, you can feel the elements snapping into place. It Came From NYC stands as a an interesting curio of the art-damaged scene that gave the band life and hints at the metal juggernaut they’d become. RS


The Feelies
Only Life
Bar None Records

With The Feelies now back in action, Bar/None Records reissued the two albums the band originally made for A&M Records, 1988’s Only Life and 1991’s Time for a Witness, on vinyl and CD this year. Though the remastering vastly improves the sound of both records (they were released during the dark ages of CD sound), the former still sticks out as the band’s magnum opus. It sparkles with buoyant post-Velvets jangle, while singer Glenn Mercer delivers existential aphorisms belied by their simplistic motifs. “Higher Ground” is On the Road condensed to a four-minute pop song, while “The Undertow,” as its title suggests, is imbued with an undeniable gravitational pull. Even better, “For Awhile” is a coming of age tale—not from adolescent to adult, but perhaps adult to grown-up. That the band’s superb cover of VU’s “What Goes On” seems like an addendum of sorts speaks to the strength of this record; in short, Only Life is a classic. SS


The Fall
Hex Enduction Hour
Superior Viaduct

If there’s one silver lining from 2016, it’s that a curmudgeon like Mark E. Smith can survive, and thanks to Superior Viaduct, who has taken on a thorough re-issue campaign of The Fall’s polarizing and vast catalog, the world can re-educate themselves with the chaotic art-punk masterpiece Hex Enduction Hour. It’s a record that comes out caustic and kicking from the start —“Hey there fuck face!”—and then manages to swing and lurch and scrawl all over the rules of what art is and what punk is. If The Fall even has an entry point, Hex Enduction Hour is it. The abstract sketches and subversive melodies of guitarists of Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon reach a creative peak here, as does Smith’s pointed vitriol, sharp and messy on the jangle pop of “Just Step Sideways” and steely and bitter on “Who Make’s the Nazis?” In retrospect, it’s dense and (dare say) heady, with chunks of noise splattered in its moody crevasses, but also stoic, even solemn, a minimal-maximalist tug-o-war with every note. Though they begat Pavement, Nirvana, and the Boredoms, The Fall will never be normalized, and Hex Enduction Hour is proof the most influential records still have magic to discover. KJE


Still In a Dream#7
Various Artists
Still In a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988–1995
Cherry Red Records

Despite the somewhat pejorative tag, the shoegaze era was responsible for a sound that resonated long after it seemingly dissipated. Taking cues from the psychedelic era, but eschewing the tired hippie cliches for a modern, demure coolness, it appealed to a new generation looking to turn on. With the rush of unhinged guitars, shoegaze was at once visceral and heady. Cherry Red Records’ superb five-disc Still In a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988–1995, captures the era with tracks from leading lights like Ride, Lush, Cranes, Chapterhouse, Swervedriver, and Slowdive, as well as lesser-heard bands such as Whipping Boy, Nightblooms, and The Charlottes, and American kindred spirits Galaxie 500, Velocity Girl, Swirlies, and The Lilys. Though My Bloody Valentine is conspicuously absent, this is an amazing volume of music from an amazing time. SS


The Flesh Eaters
Forever Came Today
Superior Viaduct

While The Flesh Eaters were capable of burning rubber with the best of LA’s ’80s punk scene, what sets them apart from the pack and makes them worth re-investigating some 30 years on is visionary frontman Chris Desjardins. Capable of shifting from a hellfire scream to a beguiling croon, and offering lyrics dripping with pulp/noir illusions and graveyard poetics, Chris D. took punk to a new level of artistry that was almost cinematic in nature. And while some might argue that A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die is the high-water mark, I’ll contend that Forever Came Today is the band’s best album. It’s big, brash, brutal, and more sonically focused than the pastiche that is Minute to Pray, undeniably compelling. Combine the album’s musical ferocity with Desjardins’ mangled, elegiac soul-searching and you essentially have a masterpiece on your hands. Superior Viaduct is doing a true service keeping both of these early Flesh Eaters records in print, but if you have to pick one of the two, I’d make it Forever Came Today. NK


Betty Davis
The Columbia Years 1968–1969
Light in the Attic Records

Betty Davis has long been one of the more under-appreciated figures in music. Her lack of commercial success kept her a cult footnote until 2007, when the Light in the Attic label began reissuing her records. They even unearthed an unreleased fourth album, seemingly exhausting the vaults. But there were also rumors of a session with her then husband, Miles Davis, for Columbia that had never seen the light of day. Miraculously, Light in the Attic discovered and released selections of those sessions this year as The Columbia Years 1968–1969. The bulk of the release was co-produced by Miles and Teo Macero and includes performances from Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Billy Cox (Band of Gypsys), Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience), Harvey Brooks, Wayne Shorter, and Larry Young. There are also another three tracks from a separate session produced by Hugh Masekela and featuring members of The Jazz Crusaders. The album is the sound of Betty, literally and figuratively, finding her musical voice. The Miles session band didn’t rehearse prior to the tape rolling so you can hear them working towards something, with the added bonus of hearing both Miles and Betty on studio chatter. It’s a fun look at the earliest glimpse of the latter day Betty as well as the seeds of what would become Bitches Brew. It’s a delightful surprise. DSH


Larry Levan
Genius of Time
Universal Music

New York DJ and producer Larry Levan’s wide-ranging taste and curatorial mind, fused with his understanding of what works on any track he worked on, planted powerful roots in dance music that still bear fruit some 30 years later. This joyous, addictive sampler of remixes and edits showcases the crucial elements even as it omits some iconic work. These songs simultaneously expand in all directions and retain an openness for whatever comes.  The chug of guitar and bass recede to the background on tracks like Peech Boys’ “Life Is Something Special” and the instrumental dub of Smokey Robinson’s “I Don’t Love You,” making way for insidious, simple hooks, braided in beguiling patterns. Gwen Guthrie’s “Peanut Butter” drenches chopped drum patterns and a soaring vocal in echo for mystery and a three-dimensional quality. And tunes like Man Friday’s “Love Honey, Love Heartache” show respect for the form of the song as sweetly melancholic vocals spar with drum beats hard as granite. There isn’t a dancefloor that wouldn’t sway and spark to this. RS


Various Artists
Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music
Numero Group

This wonderfully bizarre collection documents that mostly unheard moment in American roots music which occurred after the Flying Burrito Brothers got started and before the Eagles took over. At their best—as on Kelly Heiderman’s “Sleep a Million Years” and “Travelin’” from Jimmy Carter and Dallas County Green—these dusty discoveries deliver California hooks with a Tennessee lilt, rock drums with plenty of steel guitar, and an occasional dose of hippie ideals. Wanna hear The Mamas & the Papas singing cowboy songs? Try the Black Mountain Gang. Can you imagine Waylon Jennings fronting the Doobie Brothers? Give Allan Wachs’ “Mountain Roads” a spin. What is most common in these songs is that essential element of great country music: solitude. Listening to this collection may create the impression of a cohesive scene, but in fact these sibling voices were separated by mountains, deserts, and miles of lonely wilderness. MS


Dow Jones and the Industrials
Can’t Stand The Midwest 1979–1981
Family Vineyard Records

A lot of people still think of punk’s formative years as the domain of the great and mighty New York City. And while the Rotten Apple’s contribution to the development of that heralded mutant strain of rock & roll is undeniable, there were disaffected oddballs making a racket all over the country in the late 1970s. Offering a cracked view of the waning days of the rust belt, punctuated by acne-scarred angst and Devo-esque art rock fidgeting, Indiana’s Dow Jones and the Industrials were one of the more intriguing—if largely forgotten—bands of the era. The stuff of collectors and obsessives for many years, Dow Jones and the Industrials’ prime output is finally available for wider and convenient consumption thanks to Family Vineyard’s 2016 collection, Can’t Stand the Midwest 1979–1981. An essential reissue for malcontents and freaks this great nation over. NK


The Scientists
A Place Called Bad
Numero Group

Frequently excluded from the pantheon of the punk era, The Scientists seemingly were born from obscurity (Perth, Australia in the ’70s) and then proceeded to eventually return from whence they came. However, over the course of a decade-long existence, they pieced together an iconoclastic sound by fusing pop elements with remnants of the Stooges, Cramps, and Suicide, creating a catalog that is every bit as enthralling as that of their contemporaries. Fortunately for us, this year, the always reliable Numero Group gathered up the entirety of The Scientists’ recorded output and bundled it with a newly unearthed live recording and a 64-page booklet. This handsome box reveals head Scientist Kim Salmon as a musical force of nature as he manages to get to the nub of human emotion in all its varied forms, whether howling in despair or singing nonplussed of the ennui of life. You want to talk about the real junk? This is it. SS

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