Sunday, April 02, 2023

Best Of 2022: Out Of The Past

Have No Fear, AnEarful is now HERE

I feel like I’m highlighting a slimmer batch of reissues than usual this year. It could be because I reviewed over 175 albums and listened to hundreds more, which may or may not be above or below my annual average but still feels like a lot. Another factor is that Richard Shaw’s ongoing #5albums polls on Twitter may be adding to my retrospective load in such a way that I have less bandwidth for other sounds of the past. All that said, there were some significant reissues that demand to be discussed, even if only briefly, from overstuffed commemorative boxes to obscurities seeing the light of day for the first time. As noted, a few of these are vinyl only but a  track from the rest can be found in this playlist or below.


The Beatles - Revolver (Super Deluxe) It’s easy to be jaded by the yearly drumbeat of rejigged and expanded versions of these bedrock albums, especially when you already have multiple copies, as I do (three on vinyl, two on CD). As with other entries in this latest go round, one of the selling points with this one is a version of the original stereo LP remixed by Giles Martin, the son of original producer Sir George. These have been of intermittent necessity, with the Sgt. Pepper’s “mono in stereo” mix likely being the most essential one. There’s nothing wrong with this new Revolver, with its slightly more prominent rhythm section, but there’s nothing necessary about it either. Then we get two discs of outtakes, which are actually among the most fascinating and satisfying of their kind. Even with all the bootlegs I have, I was unaware of the “actual speed” version of Rain, a single recorded during the Revolver sessions. To manipulate the sound to their liking, they recorded the backing track what sounds like 50 percent faster than the released version, then slowed it down for that uniquely draggy sound. What a rush. 

Then you get working tapes of gleaming icons of perfection like And Your Bird Can Sing, Dr. Robert, and others, some of which give a hint of what a live jam in this sound world might sound like. This batch of outtakes is one I’ve been coming back to, unlike some of the “one and done” flotsam and jetsam on other sets. If you don’t need the book, which is by all accounts handsomely designed, you might very well be satisfied with streaming the set, which costs a hefty $165 on vinyl. But - and this is a very big but - the collection also includes a mono master edition of the album, which is the best way to hear it as The Beatles intended. If you have a turntable and you missed out on the Mono Masters series from 2014, this set is actually a bargain, as those are now going for at least $125 on the resale market. That means for $165 you can get the album on mono vinyl PLUS all those other goodies, including a 7” of the Paperback Writer/Rain single. If you already have a mono copy, it’s a tougher sell, but by all means listen to the extras wherever you stream music.

Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Super Deluxe Edition) Like The Beatles, Wilco - especially in their Jay Bennett phase - liked to put songs through various wringers to get to the essence of how they should be recorded. Unlike The Beatles, however, Wilco specializes in a kind of gut-wrenching emotionalism and some of the drafts, demos, and alternate takes seem to be doing their hardest to avoid those white-hot feelings. But even if there is little that would cause you to question their judgement about what ended up on the final album, the X-Ray of their process is deeply engaging, especially if you're involved in creative endeavors of your own. Embrace their process and then return to your own, renewed. There's also a generous helping of killer live performances and a book, written by Bob Mehr, which goes deep into the motivations and machinations that led to the end result, one of the true masterpieces of our young century. 

David Bowie - Divine Symmetry As you might have guessed, this latest box from the Bowie estate is concerned with peeling back the layers that led to Hunky Dory. Starting with the startling Tired Of My Life, which evolved into It's No Game nearly a decade later, this is more of a step-by-step experience than the Revolver or YHF boxes. Raw demos are taken on stage, sometimes solo and sometimes with early versions of what would become the Spiders From Mars, and then into the studio to become all-time classic tracks. While Bowie's process can seem slightly random he always manages to stick the landing on the final album, especially when it's an all-time classic like this one.


Hamilton Leithauser & Paul Maroon - Dear God Originally released solely on vinyl in 2015, this is "a bravely bare setting for Leithauser to display his vocal talents and he is more than up to the task," as I wrote in my review. Glad to see its varied charms getting wider release and don't be jealous if you can't get your copy hand-delivered like I did!

Bon Iver - Bon Iver (10th Anniversary Edition) Beautifully packaged and with an essay by super-fan Phoebe Bridgers, this commemorative edition also includes five glorious live-in-the-studio performances featuring Justin Vernon's voice, his grand piano, and some minimal accompaniment from Sean Carey. Stripping everything away to the bare essence removes some of the "willful obscurity" that had me keeping the album at arm's length at times. A cover of Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me is worth the price of admission, giving a precious opportunity to concentrate on Vernon's incandescent brilliance as a singer.


Alhaji Waziri Oshomah - World Spiritual Classics Vol. 3: The Muslim Highlife Of... After earlier volumes featuring Alice Coltrane and the "funkiest, most soulful gospel you didn't know you needed," Luaka Bop strikes again with this collection of seven tracks from the man known as the "greatest entertainer in all of Edo State." Recorded in southern Nigeria in the 70s and 80s, the songs are blissful enough that their formulaic nature is easily forgiven. Usually consisting of two mournful chords, a danceable beat, Oshomah pontificating cheerfully, and one unique sound or another (a wah wah trumpet, here, a burbling synth there), the songs run together and transport you to a place where the complexities of life are met with joy and forbearance. 

Sun Ra Arkestra and Salah Ragab plus the Cairo Jazz Band - Sun Ra Arkestra Meets Salah Ragab In Egypt If Sun Ra WAS originally from Saturn, one can imagine a stop in Ancient Egypt before his 1914 appearance in Alabama as Herman Blount. Either way, it makes perfect sense for him to have brought the Arkestra to Egypt to collaborate with Ragab, a percussionist and bandleader. Based on the first two tracks here, recorded in 1983, they got on like a house on fire. Sun Ra sparkles on the electric piano, the grooves are expansive, and the arrangements and solos fall just this side of a beautiful chaos. More of that would have certainly been welcome, but the rest of the compilation is taken up with tracks by Ragab from the early 70s. Fortunately, he was enough of a kindred spirit to Sun Ra that the album is a consistent delight. As someone new to Ragab's work, I'm grateful to Strut Records for making the introduction!


Thrust - The Chosen Are Few Montreal reissue label Return To Analog uncovers a lost near-classic of Canadian hip hop with Thrust the cheerfully bombastic ringleader joined by guests like Scam, K-Cut, and Kardinall Offishall, the only name familiar to me. Speaking of unfamiliar names, some younger listeners may need to Google the hilarious Lorena Bobbit reference in The Music but it will be worth the effort! Even if from the frozen north, there's plenty of Caribbean warmth among these loose tracks, the sound of friends at ease in the studio. But what impresses the most on this heavyweight, dead-silent pressing is the rich bass - it just sounds so good. This first reissue since 2001 comes in an edition of 1,000 copies on vinyl only so don't miss out. Vinyl Only

Shades Of Culture - Mindstate First time on vinyl for this 1998 album, and Return To Analog pulled out the stops once again, with a beautiful pressing and a gatefold jacket. While this trio's debt to neighbors to the south, including the Beastie Boys and the Pharcyde, is more pronounced than Thrust's, there's still a lot to love here, especially if you've worn out all your favorites from hip hop's 90s golden age. Vinyl Only


Seompi - We Have Waited: Singles and Unreleased Texas psych-metal as you might have heard it at friend's house party. Chaotic and grungy, with series of riffs that don't always add up to songs but the conviction of the players always gets the tracks to the finish line. This cross-border collaboration finds Return To Analog working with Illinois psych specialists Lion Productions to gather this material and present it in a nice edition of 500. The package includes a 12-page booklet with an extensive interview with bassist-vocalist Dave Williams, who has some real tales to tell about being a "longhair" in Dallas, circa 1970.Vinyl Only

Badge - Collected Singles This tunefully lysergic band was mainly the project of Val Rogolino, Jr., an emigre from France to Maryland who developed a versatile drumming style somewhere between Nick Mason and Keith Moon, and Cheese Sollers, a rhythm guitarist with some songwriting skills. Spanning recordings from 1971 to 1976, these tracks find the band sticking to their guns in the face of nearly zero traction (including a rejection letter from Apple signed by May Pang!), turning out songs ranging from brisk pop-psych to completely spaced-out jams. A lost corner of the 70s, now given the spotlight in an edition of 500 from Return To Analog and Lion Productions. The booklet tells the tale of their origins and their only album, as Kath, also available on a deluxe CD. The 1976 recordings are surprisingly accomplished and comparing the two versions of As I Look/As I Looked shows how far they came. But times changed, the gigs dried up, and Badge limped its way to dissolution in the early 80s. Bring them back to life in your living room today. Vinyl Only


Asexuals - Be What You Want This 1984 debut album from a Montreal band often lumped in with hardcore punk - but far more melodic than most in that genre - gets a well-deserved reissue on bright red vinyl and in perfect sound. Guitars soar in searing solos and riffs, the rhythm section is tight and unstoppable, the songs are well-written, and John Kastner's (later of the Doughboys) vocals are aggressive but not too harsh. There's also a booklet filled with great pictures (including one of Kastner in a PIL t-shirt that I especially appreciated) and contemporary interviews. I wish I had heard them in the 80s but it's never too late to discover a great band. Vinyl Only

Malka Spigel & Colin Newman - Gliding & Hiding As a big fan of Newman's main project, Wire, I have been remiss in diving into the extended universe of the band, which includes Immersion, a duo between Spigel and Newman, and Githead, a quartet in which both play. But I think my greatest sin of omission may have been ignoring Spigel's considerable talents as a bass player, songwriter, and vocalist, which were first put to use in the Israeli post-punk band, Minimal Compact. This collection, which pulls together the 2014 Gliding EP, reworked tracks from 1994's Hide LP, and some recent recordings, offers a kaleidoscopic array of sounds and songs. Often featuring her throbbing, dubbed-out bass and gleaming, hypnotic guitars (including Newman and Wire's youngest member, Matthew Simms), and winding melodies that seem to draw on her Israeli heritage. Not only is this stunning collection a must for Wire-heads, but for anyone interested in art rock of the highest quality. Ignoring Malka Spigel is not a mistake I will repeat.


Suzi Analogue - Infinite Zonez Crucial collection of all of the fizzy electronic grooves Analogue put out on the Zonez EPs from 2016 to 2019. Find plenty of the "ultra-rhythmic and sweetly melodic personality" I've praised in the past, with the songs "like mini-trips through her imagination via the most scenic route possible." As Michael Millions repeats on my favorite cut NNO APOLOGY, "Control with knowing/Who I gotta be/Living with no apology." Amen to that!

Bob Marley & The Wailers - Live At The Rainbow, 1st June 1977 Two days before the release of Exodus, BMW took the stage and laid its first four songs on an unsuspecting audience. Perhaps because they were still working out where the new material would fit in their setlist going forward, it was also the only night of the four-night stand that they played Natural Mystic, So Much Things To Say and Guiltiness. Those songs were infrequently performed in the future, if at all, only increasing the interest of this first-ever release of the complete show. The new material also finds the band somewhat slow to warm up, but when they get to Jamming and Exodus near the end - after traversing many classics, including a mesmeric War/No More Trouble - you can hear the unstoppable, world-beating force they would become on the 1978 tour, so beautifully preserved on Babylon By Bus. When it comes to Marley in his prime, there is no such thing as overkill, so dig into the complete shows from June 2nd and 3rd while you're at it, both also released for the first time in a celebration of the 45th anniversary of Exodus. Only time will tell if they have anything left in the vaults for the 50th anniversary!

Dig in to more older sounds in this archive playlist and keep up with what 2023 unearths here.

You may also enjoy: 
Best Of 2021: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2020: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2019: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2018: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2017: Out Of The Past
Best Of 2016: Reissues