The music world saw reissues from all over the genre map, spanning classic rock titans to electronic music legends.
20 - 16
Album: First Demo
List number: 20
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This may be cheating, but goddammit Fugzai deserves to be somewhere on this year-end list. First Demo as its unadorned title implies, isn't "new" Fugazi material in the way that we all have been waiting for over a decade. (The band is still on "indefinite hiatus", and at this point it would take George W. Bush burning the original Constitution and declaring himself President again in a military coup to bring it out of hiatus.) But First Demo isn't a reissue either; the tracks have appeared in modified forms throughout Fugazi's lengthy, yet too-brief career. Recorded in January 1988 at Inner Ear Studios in Arlington, Virginia, First Demo captures the early seeds of Fugazi's germination. There are missteps, scrapped lyrics, and a strange brew of misery and politics. Yeah, yeah, the US was a bit of shitshow in 1988, you know? Not as much as in 2002, when Fugazi tossed in the towel, but there was a community of like-minded fans and musicians in 1988 that had the gumption to ring the bells of the underground and Fugazi helped sell the blueprint--moreso than the stringency of Minor Threat ever could. Is it possible to think of punk without the call-out of "Waiting Room" or the anti-commerical stance of "Merchandise", where the band sings, "You are now what you own!"? Didn't think so.
But here's why Fugazi deserves our attention 13 years after its last official release: we will never see another band like it. Ever. It's a tragedy, but not in the typical way we have come to think of tragedies. Fugazi gave us all the tools we needed to create our own indie empire and it left, arguably, when shit was starting to go bad and the underground needed new heroes. The band could have keep plugging along, but it moved out, stepped aside, and decided to allow some of the others to issue a call.
And we failed.
We didn't heed Fugazi's instructions; we let DIY get co-opted and sold, replaced by critical coolness. And instead of following its instructions, we sat on our thumbs and waited for the group to come back. But Fugazi isn’t coming back. First Demo is all we're gonna get. It's all the we need; a reminder of what you can do when you decide to make some noise. Go now. Make your own demo. Scott Elingburg
Album: In the Orbit of Ra
List number: 19
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In the Orbit of Ra
Take a year’s worth of reissued and repackaged music and sift through it to find those releases that take a unique approach to the music of the past. You won’t find many. In the Orbit of Ra is one; it presents a thoughtfully, lovingly curated approach to Sun Ra’s music. Marshall Allen, who played in the Arkestra for decades and continues to carry on the legacy, put together this two-CD tour of Sun Ra’s music. Spread across nearly four decades and countless record labels, his catalogue is immense. You could spend a small fortune trying to listen through even just the most beloved albums of his career. Focused mainly on the 1960s and ‘70s, In the Orbit of Ra is a great introduction to the world of Sun Ra, like a mix-tape made for you by a knowledgeable friend. It covers a remarkable expanse of sounds and styles within its limits, which any true Sun Ra introduction has to. It shoots us off into the outermost galaxies, within our own heads. Dave Heaton
Album: Sun Zoom Spark: 1970-1972
List number: 18
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Sun Zoom Spark: 1970-1972
When we talk about Don Van Vliet, the man behind the Captain Beefheart persona, we tend to talk about what's not there. We talk about him the way we often talk about genius we don't (or don't want to) understand, as if it sprung up, mysterious and ex nihilo, fully formed. To talk about Trout Mask Replica, the Beefheart's thorny classic, we talk about what it's missing: a sense of order, a sense of calm, in some cases definable structure, in others definable songs. We talk about these as virtues, of course, but for some reason it's easier to talk about what's missing than what's present and accounted for in Van Vliet's work.
The same is true of the albums contained in Sun Zoom Spark: 1970-1972. The three albums here -- Lick My Decals Off, Baby, Clear Spot, and The Spotlight Kid -- were released by Warner Bros. in the years following Trout Mask Replica. They are considered Van Vliet's attempt at some form of commercial success, and so to talk about these records you also have to talk about a sort of failure, about the notion that these albums never sold the kind of units the musician or the label had hoped for. Sun Zoom Spark, though, packaged with another disc of outtakes and rarities, gives us a chance to re-evaluate this part of the Captain Beefheart story, and in reminding us not what is missed here but rather what exists in these albums, what wonderful eccentricities and peccadilloes are there to dig into, this box set pays fine tribute to a strange performer who wasn't interested, primarily, in strangeness. He just wanted to make good records. Matt Fiander
Album: Journey On: Collected Singles
Label: Secretly Canadian
List number: 17
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Journey On: Collected Singles
Secretly Canadian has done a lot to celebrate the work of Jason Molina in the wake of his untimely passing. The label reissued Magnolia Electric Co. and Didn't It Rain, both of which reminded us of the power Songs: Ohia had when Molina's first great band started making cohesive records. The tracks on Journey On: Collected Singles, though, tell another story. Journey On reminds us of the isolated, individual early days of the Songs: Ohia project. From the rattling shuffle of "Soul" to the darker corners of "Journey On" to the beautifully stripped-down early take of "Lioness", Journey On collects lonesome transmissions that feel deeply generous in their emotional reach. It's a bittersweet listen, one that reminds you just how much talent was lost when Molina passed, and reminding us how much great music he left behind. It presents music as both a place of sacrifice and safe haven. Some of these songs feel too raw, too bare, as if Molina was giving us more than he could, but others -- like the quietly powerful "How to Be Perfect Men" -- sound like Molina's primary source of power. This excellent set is a more impressionistic view of Molina's songwriting than those other reissued albums, but it might give us a different look at the man behind those songs, a man still dearly missed. Matt Fiander
Album: Hard Land, Hard Rain
List number: 16
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Hard Land, Hard Rain
Roddy Frame’s career went down many winding paths, but it’s safe to argue that he never created something as wholly unique as his first album with Aztec Camera. Even now, it’s baffling to think that someone as young as Frame was at the time could write songs so complex and mature. Pulling equally from Django Reinhardt and Joe Strummer, Frame created a style of guitar pop unlike anything that had been done before, a style that would later influence bands like The Smiths. While Aztec Camera would experience highs and lows throughout its career, High Land, Hard Rain stands alone. The album remains absolutely essential listening, and it’s about time that audiences (especially in America, where the band never had much of a chance) gave the album its fair due. Kevin Korber