Like Gas’ Nah und Fern, a recent reissue set of minimal electronic music, 1 2 3 is more than most can handle in one sitting. The formula barely changes from track to track, or album to album: clicks and pops, whizzing filter sweeps, anemic synth stabs and rumbling bass. The formula doesn’t budge, but it’s a winner from track one. The result of an accidentally dropped four-pole filter (thus the name), the whirrs, cuts, and pops of the first three Pole albums are dub and techno, reduced to microsound particulate. 1, the most timid of the three, is a slowly evolving sand castle of blips, wavelets and chirps.
Things get a little more relaxed on 2 and 3, the latter listing along with more present bass and a generally slower pass. “Überfahrt” (from 3) sounds like smoke slowly rising and trembling lids over bloodshot eyes, compared to “Tanzen” (from 1), a rapidly forming lattice of microscopic dancehall skank. It’s a subtle progression, but Pole becomes a more relaxed and expanded presence over three albums. So maybe the comment earlier about the difficulty of listening to 1 2 3 in one sitting was incorrect. Just make sure you’re sitting on something soft by the time 3 takes over. David Abravanel
When Susumu Yokota is not making music, he’s making more music. So, there’s perhaps no one more deserving of this fitting primer (compiled by Chiller Cabinet’s Ben Eshmade) on the intimidating back catalogue of the often brilliant electronic genius. Those coming to this album in a wintry climate will not be disappointed. I can attest to the fact that the warm and inviting melodies perform perfect room tone for staring into the fireplace or out the window on a snowy day. Yokota’s compositions here assimilate the pastoral into the technological with deftness and considerable charm. Traditional Eastern instruments meet with Aphexy otherworldly atmospherics, haiku-like melodies, and the occasional wonderfully lost bottom-of-a-canyon/ top-of-a-mountain/ trapped in a dream echo vocal. Most impressive of all, Eshmade assembles Yokota’s work so it sounds like a continuum, from the deep space droning of Laputa‘s Labradford-esque “Iconic Air” to the Debussy remix “Purple Rose Minuet” off Yokota’s 2005 album Symbol to the youthful sugar high breakbeat bounce of “Illusion River”. Yokota fulfills the kind of utopian fantasy of Japan as alien grace and wonderment energy dome that Sofia Copolla’s Lost in Translation waxed all awed mute about. You can never be more than a tourist, a passenger at best, on his journey, but you’ll be thinking about the trip for years to come. Timothy Gabriele
Susumu Yokota - Kodomotachi (Night of the Hunter recut)
A close friend and inspiration to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, the last minute substitute singer for Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar”, a strong influence on Joanna Newsom’s Ys, Roy Harper has been a cult obsession for decades. Yet only now, after decades of State-side inaccessibility, are his classic albums getting a re-release. His best-seller Flat Baroque and Berserk still coruscates with its acid “I Hate the White Man”, still rollicks with the Nice-assisted “Hell’s Angel”, while 1984’s Jugula showcases an explosive, electric blues entente with Jimmy Page. But it’s Stormcock, with its four folk mini-symphonies—and particularly the final, haunting “Me and My Woman”—that makes the case for Harper as the 1960s genius that got away… at least until now. Jennifer Kelly
Roy Harper - One of Those Days in England
The aughts have been kind to fans of Afrobeat, Afro-funk, and Afro-pop, with re-issue compilations like Luaka Bop’s World Psychedelic Classics 3: Love’s a Real Thing – The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa and BBE’s Hugh Masakela Presents: The Chisa Years 1965-1975 (Rare and Unreleased) bringing hard-to-find cuts to the masses in recent years. Strut’s Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump is one of many notable compilations of ‘70s-era Nigerian music released this year alone, and one of the best -– voices call and respond, guitars slice and bob and weave, rhythm sections anchor the tides of ecstasy, hope, and juju groove. Prickly psychedelia and garage-rock pop up from time to time, particularly on tracks like Ify Jerry Krusade’s “Everybody Likes Something Good” and the Immortals’ “Hot Tears”, adding hot sauce to an already delectable dish of movement, truth, and emotional muscle. Zeth Lundy
808 State were signed to ZTT on the strength of “Pacific State”, a chart-topping hit that to this day is their crowning achievement. So why focus on everything that came after it? Because 808 State are one of the few acts to truly strive for a kind of global art form, at once exotic and local, futuristic and looking to the past, electronic and acoustic. Trumpeter John Hassell described a “fourth world” of music which would embrace these seemingly opposed concepts. 808 State were geographically from Manchester, and shot to fame in the late ‘80s, but something as sublime as “Lopez” or as massive as “Cübik” cannot be thrust into the confines of the Madchester craze.
To their detractors, 808 State went downhill after ex:el, turning to new age muzak. These same detractors would label other such nakedly honest attempts at utopian euphoria as pap –- see the lukewarm reception of Mercury Rev’s recent output. Truth told, there’s some suspense of disbelief involved here. But if you can exit the cynicism inherent in the crap pile known as modern indie music, revisiting 808 State is just the right ride. David Abravanel
808 State - Cübik
Brighten the Corners
Nicene Creedence Edition
(Matador; US: 9 Dec 2008; UK: Available as import)
I’ll admit that it’s odd to think that an album released just last decade is in need of the deluxe re-issue treatment so soon. Do we really have the clear-headed hindsight necessary to deem Pavement a “classic” worthy of catalog reassessment, and if so, is it premature to complicate a good thing with gluttonous extras? Or, more simply: at a time when less is more, when economic hardship trumps sentimental rehash, is such a thing even ideologically prudent? Matador’s two-disc “Nicene Creedence Edition” of Pavement’s greatest album, Brighten the Corners, doesn’t provoke this kind of dilemma -– it is unusually successful in that its trove of outtakes, b-sides, and live radio sessions (32 extra tracks, to be exact) dwarf the original record’s tracklist while offering nearly consistent quality. It’s great fun to hear the band’s sloppy mastery of its long-developed aesthetic, especially on outtakes like “Then (The Hexx)”, where Stephen Malkmus shouts out the changes and directs his bandmates, effectively puncturing the idea of Pavement as an untrained absurdity. Zeth Lundy
Pavement - Shady Lane
Young Team (Deluxe Edition)
(Chemikal Underground; US: 27 May 2008; UK: 26 May 2008)
There’s an old adage about turds and the inability to polish them, but what about gold nuggets? Can you make them shinier? According to this re-mastered re-release of Mogwai’s debut album, the answer is a resounding yes. Initially thrust on an unsuspecting public back in 1997, Young Team was a towering force of glacial song structures that ebbed and flowed with epochal peaks, lilting melodies, and murmured vocals. But despite its lauded status as a post-rock masterpiece, the band members were never satisfied with its initial incarnation. This re-mastered version rectifies this issue by delineating the sounds, making the louder moments much more deafening and the quieter passages more pronounced. Unfortunately (unlike the album which is required listening for owners of the original due to its production do-over), the extras -– live tracks, b-sides, and a Spaceman 3 cover—are interesting if not entirely essential. But this record isn’t about the extras; it’s about a band’s true vision finally seeing the light of day and a brilliant album sounding even better. Kevin Pearson
Mogwai - Summer (Live on French TV in 1998)
Despite my sideburns and overgrown hair, I didn’t dig Odelay when it came out a dozen years ago, but I gave the deluxe edition a chance. I’ll confess to being hooked by the extras, including a too-short Thurston Moore essay, and a hilarious set of interviews with high schoolers by the good version of Dave Eggers. The bonus tracks are worth it, 13 respectable b-sides, and the assorted remix/unreleased stuff. But none of that would matter if the music didn’t hold up. After a decade of proliferating mash-up artists and genre pastichists, Odelay still sounds like a party going on, or at least like the way you’d want a party to be, playful and curiosity-filled. If it doesn’t sound dated, it doesn’t sound fully removed from its time either, utilizing an ironic self-effacement, delineating an aesthetic, and creating space way from that year’s chart-toppers like “Wannabe” and “Wonderwall”. While “Devils Haircut” and “Where It’s At” get the attention, this reissue has plenty that’s more worth looking back at. Justin Cober-Lake
Beck - Where It’s At
Horrible Truth about Burma / Signals, Calls, and Marches / Vs.
(Matador; US: 2008; UK: 2008)
Some reissues are set-up to preserve the original sound of the album. Others are packed with bonus tracks and pages of liner notes, meant to update the album and give it a new relevance. With these Mission of Burma reissues, Matador has managed to do both. The albums include only a few bonus tracks each, but all are solid outtakes that reaffirm their brilliance for fans in the know and paint them as a sturdy and consistently fantastic rock band for newcomers. Any music fan, period, would appreciate the insightful interviews included in the liner notes, detailing the making of the band’s small discography. The DVDs included show, on charmingly fuzzy VHS tape, an infectiously exciting band on stage that sound as good live as they do on record. And the photos included show the guys not as a bunch of pretentious art students making “difficult” music, but a bunch of dudes in flannel and jeans making rock music that happens to sound like no other rock music you ever heard.
But the best thing these reissues do is preserve the original documents. The remastered albums sound clean and crisp, but not at all digitized or updated. They sound like someone took a deep breath and blew a thick layer of dust off the cans, and that light touch goes a long way in holding onto the albums’ original energy and bite. They also keep the bonus tracks separate from the albums themselves, going so far as to put them on a whole other record in the vinyl copies. There are even breaks fit into the middle of the CDs, indicating the side break built into the original records. All in all, Matador focused on the details to make these reissues special. It had been only five years since the last time the band’s discography had been reissued, but after these excellent editions, that last batch of disc feels awfully dated. Matt Fiander
If 2008 had to be summed up by one word, it would be hard to argue against “change”. Not only did Barack Obama offer us “Change We Can Believe In”, his subsequent election as America’s first African-American President solidified that shift. Arthur Lee, Love’s enigmatic lead singer, was all too familiar with turning tides. As well as penning a plethora of psychedelic, folk inflected pop—the best of which can be found on this 1967 album—he also spent five years in prison, and an even longer time in obscurity, before passing away in 2006. It would be interesting to hear what Lee, who sang “we’re all normal and we want our freedom”, would think of America’s current social and political permutations. And while this re-issue offers fans very little in terms of new material -– an alternate mix and several extra songs, many of which were included on a prior re-release -– its title and lyrical content make for a timely and relevant revisit. Kevin Pearson
Love - Alone Again Or and A House Is Not a Motel