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R.E.M.

Green (25th Anniversary Edition)

(Rhino)

Review [14.May.2013]

15


R.E.M.
Green (25th Anniversary Edition)


On paper, Green doesn’t seem to be the R.E.M. album most worthy of re-consideration. Most people are happy to leave it as “the one with ‘Stand’ on it”. Looking back now, it’s clear just how important this album was for R.E.M.‘s growth as a band. It’s the tentative step forward for a band that decided to use the gift of a major label contract to get even weirder. As the band found themselves playing arenas, they took the opportunity to challenge their audience, pairing pop-friendly material like “Stand” and “Orange Crush” with the obtuse folk of “Hairshirt” and slow, grungy dirge of “I Remember California”. In a few short years, groups like Nirvana would make millions by being confrontational about the notion of what pop was supposed to be, but they couldn’t have gotten there without R.E.M. and Green, one of the strangest hit records ever to be released. Kevin Korber


 

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Sly & the Family Stone

Higher!

(Sony/Legacy)

14


Sly & the Family Stone
Higher!


Higher! was released this year as a complete four-disc, career retrospective of Sly Stone’s output. The album contains Sly & the Family Stone‘s biggest hits along with lesser-known material and 17 unreleased tracks, including his earliest recordings when he was still going by Sly Stewart. The collection is an excellent summary of one of the most important groups of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and the band’s place in the development of pop and soul. Higher! shows the huge amount of ground the band covered during its existence as well as the band’s awesome amalgamation of funk, soul, pop, and rock music. The songs speak for themselves and the collection serves as both an introduction to Sly Stone for newcomers as well as a deep excavation of Sly’s catalog for longtime fans. Eric Goldberg


 

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Various Artists

Music for Dancefloors: The KPM Music Library (Deluxe Version)

(Strut)

13


Various Artists
Music for Dancefloors: The KPM Music Library (Deluxe Version)


This year saw an onslaught of “expanded” editions of albums that millions of people already owned. But Music For Dancefloors contained music that was never meant to be owned, and it was one of the best reissues of the year. KPM was one of several British “music libraries” produced and licensed music that was meant to serve as theme songs, jingles, and interstitials for television and radio shows. And, during its heyday in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it inadvertently turned out some of the best “rare groove” music ever. From R&B and Blaxploitation funk to samba to jazz and tropicalia, Music For Dancefloors came packed with a disc’s worth of previously hard-to-find highlights. And a 2000 live performance by the “KPM All Stars”, added as a separate disc, was a worthy bonus, featuring several immortal sports themes. In a perfect world, every reissue would be this essential, not to mention listenable. John Bergstrom


 

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The Mountain Goats

All Hail West Texas [Remastered]

(Merge)

12


The Mountain Goats
All Hail West Texas [Remastered]


All Hail West Texas is an album that could have been destined to be obscure or even non-existent. Recorded in an almost vacant house in Ames, Iowa, in 1999 while its creator’s wife was away at hockey camp with, mostly, just an acoustic guitar and the lonely voice belonging to singer-songwriter John Darnielle, the album is a paean to the state of decay, of a way of life somewhere buried in the past, and the willfully non-commercial. Indeed, you can hear the wheel grind of Darnielle’s dying Panasonic RX-FT500 recorder at the start and end of all of these songs, which gives the album a rough, raw and underground feeling, and even the mostly all-white cover “art” for the record provides it the quality of being almost a bootleg. It’s as though this is an LP that was never meant to see the light of day in the first place, let alone being worthy of the reissue treatment. We’re even lucky to have some of these songs: the tape would sometimes run out part-way during recording, or Darnielle would be interrupted by a ringing telephone, or perhaps a ditty would just be relegated to the non-inclusion bin not long after being recorded by the temperamental artist. However, the 14 songs that made it elevate the raggedly-recorded album to great heights. When Darnielle sings “Hail Satan!” on opening cut “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton”, a chill might transcend down your spine. Ultimately, All Hail West Texas is one of the best lo-fi recordings ever made, and given its difficult gestation process, you walk away feeling quite lucky to have heard, if not paid witness to, these fine, transcendent songs. Zachary Houle


 

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Songs: Ohia

Magnolia Electric Co. (Ten Year Anniversary Edition)

(Secretly Canadian)

Review [5.Dec.2013]

11


Songs: Ohia
Magnolia Electric Co. (Ten Year Anniversary Edition)


There have been reissues of earlier Songs: Ohia records. There have been reissues of stuff from Jason Molina’s high school band. Damien Jurado reissued his excellent Where Shall You Take Me and dedicated it to Molina. There’s been a lot of remembering and missing Jason Molina this year, but this reissue of Magnolia Electric Co. may be the most fitting tribute. The album saw the lean, spacious shadows of other Songs: Ohia work expanded into giant yet airtight classic rock compositions. And Molina’s lyrics were every bit as big and resonant as the sounds. This was a transitional record for Molina, both in sound and in searching for something better. It’s easy to see this as all too sad considering his passing, but there’s just too much subtle fight in the darkness of “Farewell Transmission”, too much cautious hope on “I’ve Been Riding With the Ghost”, and wide-open wonder and resilience of “John Henry Split My Heart”. The extras here are every bit as brilliant, as we get studio takes on live favorite “Whip Poor Will” and the brilliant epic “The Big Game is Every Night”, which nearly steals the show here. Also included are home demos of each track, which are both solitary and beautiful, revealing the seed of Molina’s excellent songwriting and voice that these songs grew out of. “It’ll get so quiet when this record ends,” Molina sings on “Big Game”, and he’s sadly right about this set, but to focus on that and not the heartfelt, bracing music that comes before is to miss the point. Molina left us with so much beautiful heartbreak, and this is perhaps him at his very best. Matthew Fiander


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