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Music

The Best Album Re-Issues of 2014

The music world saw reissues from all over the genre map, spanning classic rock titans to electronic music legends.

The music world saw reissues from all over the genre map, spanning classic rock titans to electronic music legends.

 
Artist: The Clientele

Album: Suburban Light

Label: Merge

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/suburbanlight.jpg

List number: 25

Display Width: 200

The Clientele
Suburban Light

Suburban Light is either the most classical pop album of the aughts, or the best classical album to utilize pop structures. It's far too loose to be accepted by classical audiences, despite its inclusion of some achingly gorgeous string accompaniments and more than a few nods to the days of Romanticism and Victorianism. Long overlooked because of its piecemeal track list and an inferior "US release" status, Suburban Light finally came to us like a fever dream, full of promise and repose, in 2014. The reissue extras, especially the keyhole peek of "Tracy Had a Hard Day Sunday", blew a window wide open into the Clientele's process and unearthed some would-be forgotten gems. But, truthfully, the fullness of the analog warmth, the Fender Twin Reverb vocals of Alasdair Maclean, and the crystalline melding of what would become the band's signature sound, are what make Suburban Light a silver-plated gift of celebration. Like most bands too good to last forever, the Clientele has gone off and left us and, in the process, left a niche that has yet to filled by any band as astute and austere as it was. At least the band left us with a porcelain gift in Suburban Light; a single gaslight left glowing in a shadow box of ever-dimming pop songs. Go back, then, and listen to "Bicycles" and "I Had to Say This" and think about all that could have been, but never was. Scott Elingburg

 
Artist: Nils Lofgren

Album: Face the Music

Label: Concord / Fantasy

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/n/nilslofgren_cover_rgb.jpg

List number: 24

Display Width: 200

Nils Lofgren
Face the Music

Face the Music is a testament to Lofgren’s impressive career and demonstrates Lofgren is a lot more than just a notable sideman. Right from the get-go Lofgren had a cult following, and the level of detail contained in this box set will be of great service to his fans. In itself, Face the Music makes any type of debate over Lofgren's commercial success redundant because there is so much good music here. Listening to the CDs in order traces the arc of modern popular music, from late ‘60s innocent pop, to straight-ahead ‘70s rock, to ‘80s over-production, with a restoration to balance in the ’90s and beyond. Probably the best material is contained on CD1 (the Grin years) and CD5 (made up of more mature, dark work), but there are good songs on every shiny surface. The packaging is sturdy, with a sketch signed by Lofgren, and as a niche proposition this box is a real way of getting to know a versatile artist in depth. Casual listeners should be entertained if they can afford the outlay, but there’s no doubt die-hard fans will be enthralled. Charles Pitter

 
Artist: The Clean

Album: Anthology

Label: Merge

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/t/the_clean_anthology.jpg

List number: 23

Display Width: 200

The Clean
Anthology

The Clean’s Anthology is a reissue of a reissue, of sorts: this collection culling this New Zealand band’s EPs, singles and album tracks originally came out in 2003, and was dusted off to celebrate its American record label’s 25th anniversary. If you want to hear where Yo La Tengo got some of its best ideas, look here. The Clean is a vital group for basically forging the New Zealand sound during the early ‘80s -- it was playing original material at a time when most of its homeland brethren were content to merely work as covers outfits. And "Tally Ho", which opens this set, is infamous for being recorded on the cheap ($60 USD or so), though it certainly doesn’t sound like it. There’s a lot of history on Anthology to take in, and nearly all of the songs are top notch. Essentially, if you need a primer on the music of the antipodes, this should be anyone’s starting point. Anthology is sterling, and its re-release is a great reminder that not only is Merge an important American indie label, but there was great music being made by an act on it well before it was even born. Zachary Houle

 
Artist: Slint

Album: Spiderland

Label: Touch & Go

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/slint_cover.jpg

List number: 22

Display Width: 200

Slint
Spiderland

In the ‘90s, only Nirvana had Slint beat for the level of influence derived from a single rock album, and over two decades later, it’s just as impossible to imagine modern music without Spiderland as it is to imagine it without Nevermind. Slint, who disbanded shortly after releasing the album, never reached near the level of success as Nirvana, but the fabric of Spiderland continues to echo through modern music, specifically in the realms of post-rock and post-punk revival. Considering all this, Spiderland was a clear candidate for a big deluxe reissue set, and this year it finally happened. The remastered Spiderland featured the album, a Lance Bangs documentary, a selection of demos and outtakes, and, in the limited edition box set (long ago sold out), a beautiful 104-page hardcover book. It was one of the big reissues of the year -- it netted a near-perfect score of 99 on Metacritic -- finally giving the album the loving, devotional treatment it deserved. Spiderland may never have blown up the way it should have back in 1991, but this beautiful reissue helped ensure that it will never be forgotten. Colin Fitzgeralnd

 
Artist: Hank Williams

Album: The Garden Spot Programs, 1950

Label: Omnivore

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/w/williams_hank_garden_spot_ov-97.jpg

List number: 21

Display Width: 200

Hank Williams
The Garden Spot Programs, 1950

If there’s an issue with this surprisingly great-sounding collection of lost Hank Williams radio performances, it’s the inclusion of every intro and outro -- eight tracks in all peppered amongst the good stuff. But even those have their moments of poignancy, like when Williams -- who died at 29 -- closes out the second batch of songs by musing, "that clock, it just won’t stay still". Here is country music’s most achingly organic talent, singing songs like "Lovesick Blues" in a yodel that could weaken the most apathetic heart. No amount of forced cheer from the host can blunt the effect of Hank singing about his dying mother or about finding salvation after losing out big time on the physical plane. It’s actually fitting that these seemingly down home programs were actually mass-produced, glorified ads for a Texas nursery called Naughton Farms. Because no artist has ever spoken more clearly to those who have a hard row to hoe. Joe Sweeney

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Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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