The Best Re-Issues of 2008: 10-1

Artist: Steinski
Album: What Does It All Mean?
Subtitle: 1983-2006 Retrospective
Label: Illegal Art
US Release Date: 2008-05-27
UK Release Date: 2008-05-27

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List number: 10

Within hip-hop history, Steve Stein aka Steinski is an unlikely icon, a writer working in advertising who co-created a sampling classic as a record label contest entry. Of course that story is just a reminder of the unlikely innovation inherent in the invention of hip-hop as music. What Does It All Mean? is a dizzying two-CD trip through Steinski’s brain, from that opening salvo (“The Payoff Mix”) he created with Double Dee through to a haunting track he did using recordings from 9/11. And of course by Steinski’s brain I mean the collective brain and memory of us all, since the building blocks for these songs are popular culture and American society. More than just the story of one artist, this collection tells the story of how ideas and creations live myriad lives of their own, of how everyone and everything lives on through sampling. Dave Heaton

Steinski: What Does It All Mean?

Artist: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Album: Dazzle Ships
Label: Caroline
Label: Virgin
First date: 1983
US Release Date: 2008-04-15
UK Release Date: 2008-03-03

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List number: 9

Dazzle Ships was so prescient it wasn’t even cool. Literally. In 1983, a British pop album about genetic engineering, Nicaraguan terrorists, and Eastern Bloc industrial techniques was nothing short of baffling. That it was heavy on then-nascent digital sampling technology and featured several musique concrete-style sound collages spelled commercial suicide for a band that was following up a run of international hits. A quarter century later, though, Dazzle Ships‘ grappling with the push-and-pull among technology, politics, and human compassion in troubled times was downright timely. Plus, the combinations of electronic and organic sounds were still fascinating, Andy McCluskey’s impassioned vocals went straight to the heart, and any hokey elements were self-consciously so. All of this meant Dazzle Ships could be appreciated as a direct predecessor to albums like Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A. It’s becoming all-too-common to re-brand yesterday’s commercial failures as “overlooked masterpieces”, but Dazzle Ships‘ critical salvage job was well-deserved. John Bergstrom

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – ABC Auto Industry

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Genetic EngineeringOrchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Dazzle Ships

Artist: Liz Phair
Album: Exile in Guyville
Label: ATO
US Release Date: 2008-06-24
UK Release Date: 2008-06-23

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List number: 8

Liz Phair’s first album was not only one of the previous decade’s most astonishing debuts, but also one of its most celebrated releases, period. For all of the DIY ingenuity, casual dirty talk and music-nerd-baiting claims of the record as an opaque song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, the greatness of Exile in Guyville lies solely in the sheer effortless brilliance of the songwriting. Whether it’s the garage rock swagger of “Never Said”, the sardonic folk-pop narrative of “Divorce Song”, the libidinous fury of “Flower” or the ghostly slow-burn of “Shatter”, Guyville is, much like the sex that Phair so frequently and unflinchingly describes throughout, simply an amazingly pleasurable experience. Spruced up with some hit-and-miss bonus tracks (the stark “Ant in Alaska” is a hidden gem, the rest are filler) and a rambling documentary DVD, this reissue may not entirely live up to lofty fan expectations (where are all of those Girlysound demos, anyway?). However, for putting a now-legitimately-classic album back in the public consciousness, the existence of this set could not be more welcome or essential. Jer Fairall

Liz Phair – Never SaidLiz Phair: Exile in Guyville

Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006
Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2008-10-07
UK Release Date: 2008-10-06

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List number: 7

If there is indeed a pool of the collective subconscious that we may all dip into from time to time, then Bob Dylan swims there frequently. He’s been able to adopt whole personas, narrate across generations, and sing a song of true heartbreak that can only come from personal experience. He’s maybe the only musician who can adopt another’s perspective without ever seeming the impostor. Tell Tale Signs gives the public more, and more is what we should always take from this man. A different take on a song takes away the sardonic edge and imbues existential sadness into the sound (“Most of the Time”). A tune that didn’t make the final cut on a studio album only begs the question, “Why not?” (“Dreamin’ of You”). Or take any of the live tracks and hear how supreme confidence and professionalism only allow for more, not less, emotion and spontaneity. In a world that seemed just a little more fragile this year, it was sincerely comforting to have Bob Dylan around. Jill Labrack

Bob Dylan – Mississippi (live)Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006

Artist: Nick Lowe
Album: Jesus of Cool
Subtitle: 30th Anniversary Edition
Label: Yep Roc
Contributors: the attractions, the rumour, rockpile
First date: 1978-03-01
US Release Date: 2008-02-19
UK Release Date: 2008-02-18

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List number: 6

Long unavailable on CD, Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool merged punk’s sneering, reflexive attitude with meticulous Beatlesque songcraft. From the headline-grabbing title (altered to Pure Pop for Now People in the U.S.) to the trendhopping artwork, Lowe was unafraid to shock and even less afraid to coat his sarcastic, petulant commentaries in instantly accessible melodies. Yep Roc’s remastered upgrade puts a pristine sheen on the once-fuzzy tracks, and adds some supreme rarities, including a gloriously subversive “Born a Woman” cover and the smug industry-politics diatribe “I Love My Label”. Full of stylistic shapeshifting (disco, rockabilly, teen idol bubblegum) and winking goofs, Jesus draws on a euphonic past to chart a self-aware future, resulting in 11 timeless, ahead-of-their-time, gamut-running songs. The seductive lover’s ode “Tonight” could become a standard, while the deliciously tasteless “Marie Provost” is quite possibly the catchiest song about a Dachshund feasting on a movie star’s rotting corpse ever written. Charles Hohman

Nick Lowe – Little HitlerNick Lowe: Jesus of Cool

Artist: Dennis Wilson
Album: Pacific Ocean Blue
Subtitle: Legacy Edition
Label: Epic
Label: Sony Legacy
First date: 1977-08-22
US Release Date: 2008-06-17
UK Release Date: 2008-06-16

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List number: 5

For 17 years, the solo albums recorded by the only genuine Beach Boy have been the reserve of those willing to deal with bootlegs or to spend nearly $100 on eBay. Thirty-one years after the only Beach Boy who lived it like he sang it recorded his opus, Sony finally reissued it along with the never previously released and unfinished Bambu. This long-term unavailability has ensured that these two records have attained a near-mythical status, much like Wilson’s more celebrated brother’s Smile before them. Wilson’s weary, coke-ravaged vocals add a raw-throated appeal to a sprawling collection of Southern Californian pop that takes in gospel (“River Song”), ’70s rock (“Dreamer”) and stripped-down ballads (“Thoughts of You”). The harder-rocking Bambu isn’t quite the masterpiece that Pacific Ocean Blue is, but this two-disc collection is proof that Dennis shared not only his brother Brian’s psychological issues, but his gifts of arrangement and melody. James BassettDennis Wilson: Pacific Ocean Blue

Artist: Big Dipper
Album: Supercluster
Subtitle: The Big Dipper Anthology
Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2008-03-18
UK Release Date: 2008-03-18

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List number: 4

This lost 1980s band started as a songwriter’s collective –- in casual sessions on Bill Goffrier’s Boston porch, with Volcano Suns refugee Gary Waleik — and grew into Homestead’s raucous pop-crossed-with-punk touring machine. The band made an ill-starred jump to Sire in 1989, then foundered in neglect and unkept promises, recording a whole album worth of songs that never saw the light of day. This three-disc set collects all but Sire-issued Slam from the band’s too brief catalogue -– from the jittery jangle Boo Boo to the radiant Heavens to headlong rush of Craps. The sardonic, angry, yet very tuneful cuts (“Wake Up the King”, “Lifetime Achievement Award”) from never-released Very Loud Array are included as well, plus alternate takes and demos. It’s a glimpse into a late 1980s/early 1990s indie alternative universe that never happened, one where jagged songs about UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster ruled the airwaves, and pop was sweetly anarchic but never dull. Jennifer Kelly

Big Dipper: Supercluster

Artist: Gas
Album: Nah Und Fern
Label: Kompakt
US Release Date: 2008-06-10
UK Release Date: 2008-06-02

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List number: 3

When Mille Plateaux kicked the bucket in 2004, the four Gas albums under its auspices — Gas (1996), Zauberberg (1998), Königsforst (1999) and Pop (2000) — went out of print and began to sell for unthinkable prices. I bought them anyhow, and repeatedly argued with myself over whether I’d made a stupid move. I was $300 poorer, but the music was so special that perhaps the price tags made some sort of weird sense. Luckily this will all be moot for anyone patient enough to hold out for Nah und Fern, a remastered four-disc set containing all of Gas’s full-length output for about half of what one CD used to cost alone.

There’s no better time for Kompakt (co-owned by Gas, née Wolfgang Voigt) to share this with the world. Ambient music is gaining momentum, and Voigt’s thumbprint is all over the work of Olaf Dettinger, Markus Guentner, The Field’s Axel Willner, Yagya’s Aalsteinn Gumundsson, and nearly everyone on 12k. Regardless of its historical importance, Nah und Fern contains some of the most breathtaking music in the entire ambient electronic canon. Voigt took classical music from composers like Wagner and melted it down into a deep, rich liquid, distilling it to its sonic essence. Often he would add a muted 50 Hz kick drum — more dreamy than clubby — to push the tracks forward; ironically, this only reinforced their sense of endlessness. But the reason Gas’s work stands tall among the fold is because it doesn’t simply create an atmosphere; these rivers of sound possess such luxurious depth that they seem to penetrate the skin and move throughout the body, such that the music isn’t just lovely or enjoyable — it’s actually therapeutic. One decade and several thousand ambient albums later, it remains a singular experience. Mike NewmarkGas: Nah Und Fern

Artist: The Replacements
Album: Hootenanny / Let It Be / Pleased to Meet Me / Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash / Stink / Tim
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2008

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List number: 2

When Twin Tone reissued the early Replacements catalog in 2002, although it was nice to see those old albums in record stores again, we couldn’t help but feel a little cheated by the dubious “remastering” and complete lack of bonus material. Six years later, much to the elation of longtime fans, Rhino finally took the bull by the horns and released fully remastered, expanded versions of the Minneapolis legends’ seven albums and one EP, and the end results are glorious, most of the albums boasting significant sound improvements and each disc brimming with demos, B-sides, and live tracks. The somewhat shrill Pleased to Meet Me is given a slightly cozier mix, 1985’s lovable Tim sounds punchier, and 1989’s All Shook Down, dismissed when it first came out, has aged gracefully. Best of the lot, though, is the spectacular spit and polish given to the classic Let It Be, as well as the raucous Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, which is appended by the band’s astounding demos, recorded in 1980. Sure, it’s shameless nostalgia from we in Gen X, but like the dude said, it beats pickin’ cotton and waitin’ to be forgotten. Adrien Begrand

The Replacements: Hootenanny / Let It Be / Pleased to Meet Me / Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash / Stink / Tim

Artist: New Order
Album: Brotherhood / Low-Life / Movement / Power Corruption & Lies / Technique
Label: Rhino
US Release Date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2008

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List number: 1

Yeah, to be fair, the first printings were marred by various production problems –- a regrettable lapse considering how long people have been waiting for appropriate reissues of these seminal albums. But any dismay over printing errors -– soon to be redressed! -– should necessarily fade before general enthusiasm over finally seeing these albums remastered and repackaged in a format befitting their significance. Hyperbole doesn’t really enter into it: these albums are Ground Zero for so much of contemporary dance music, indie pop and even mainstream rock that it’s almost harder to find contemporary bands who aren’t influenced by New Order than to count those who are. And, finally, the albums have been salvaged from their woeful CD mastering and placed in a context with the 12” dance versions and remixes that made their name in the clubs. New Order was that rarest of creatures, both a classic singles band and a truly transcendent albums band, and any opportunity to revisit one of the most influential, diverse, and still strangely underrated oeuvres in all of contemporary pop is gratefully welcomed. Tim O’Neil

New Order – Blue Monday

New Order – Bizarre Love TriangleNew Order: Brotherhood / Low-Life / Movement / Power Corruption & Lies / Technique