This year's involved, expansive reissues (including deluxe editions, compilations, and box sets) are like a trip down memory lane, if memory lane had better sound quality and gorgeous packaging.
With this box set, the compilers have done more than just collected an individual's best songs. With Charlie Poole's performances surrounded by those of his influences and his followers (often performing the same songs as Poole does), we get a great contextualization of an artist as well as good starting point for the development of early country music, and clawhammer banjo work in particular. The accompanying booklet provides a guide to help navigate the music and some insight into Poole's unusual life. Throw it all in a textured imitation of a cigar box and you've got the quintessential box set. Oh, and the actual music's fantastic, too.
Justin Cober-Lake PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
If there was one singles compilation we all knew had a chance to be near perfect, it was the one by London's masters of house music, and to no one's surprise, Basement Jaxx's The Singles indeed turned out to be one of the most stacked, exhilarating CDs of the year. Starting with their highly influential A-sides "Samba Magic" and "Flylife", and continuing through their three well-regarded full-length albums, plus two new tracks (including the saucy "Oh My Gosh", their best single in years), it's a rapid-fire, hour-long assault of exuberant house tracks, all presented in concise, single-edited form. Perhaps the most ingenious aspect of the CD is the sequencing, which favors continuity over chronological tracklisting, each song sounding so ageless that it's next to impossible for novice listeners to tell what's new and what's old. Ragga, salsa, R&B, rock, garage, electro, hip-hop, and funk all coexist in this happy sonic gumbo, but for all the stylistic diversity, what the album ultimately proves just how gifted Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton are, having created some of the strongest pop music of the last decade.
Adrien Begrand Amazon
If Rhino Records was a family member, it'd be that cool uncle that gives you mixtapes brimming with forgotten musical gems from shoulda-been and never-were bands. On paper, that's Children of Nuggets, only with fancy liner notes and an essay by "Little Steven" Van Zandt. The Rhino gang unearthed 100 tunes from bands, 1976-1996, who used the original Nuggets box set of 60s garage as their launching pad. Whether it's the giddy psychedelia of XTC side-project the Dukes of Stratosphear, or the Spongetones' MASH notes to the Beatles, or the Lyres and their coulda-fooled-me-they-weren't-on-the-original-Nuggets sound, or the, well, you get the idea... every song is a treat. Listen to any of the four discs and it's clear that the bands collected on this set came together because they loved making music, not because they wanted to get rich or bury themselves in groupies (those artists are collected on Rhino's decade-overview box sets). Children of Nuggets may lack the focus of the other Rhino subgenre sets the thread connecting, say, Green on Red, Hoodoo Gurus, and the La's is tenuous at best but what these Children lack in focus, they more than make up for in joyful noise.
Stephen Haag PopMatters review Amazon
Since 1997, this indie-pop classic has pried open legions of ears. Built around the insistent acoustic guitar and fervent voice of Jeff Mangum, Aeroplane is a manifesto for a different way of making pop. To hear "Two-Headed Boy" in 2005 is to realize that Mangum's art is simply superb songwriting. But most of the record adds an ingenious mixture of accordion, brass, organ, fuzzed-out guitars, tape, and other glorious miscellanea. Miraculously, the combination is not precious or junkyard clever but oddly...punk. On "Oh Comely" the horns accompanying Mangum are seemingly drunk, as if Tom Waits had been quietly unleashed. "Ghost"'s storytelling is under-girded by rumbling bass and attacking drums, then topped off by Pet Sounds-influenced coloring, but the effect is holistically original. Aeroplane is arguably the pinnacle achievement of the Elephant 6 Collective (including bands like the Apples in Stereo, Circulatory System, Beulah), but its influence is wider still, in the obvious places (The Decemberists, the Arcade Fire) but also far beyond. And thank goodness for that.
Will Layman Amazon iTunes
Arguably the best of the Fall's 25 studio albums, Hex Enduction Hour a misanthropic tour de force, rock 'n' roll at its most abrasive and confrontational, as the inimitable Mark E. Smith spews acid-tongued verses, his six-member backing band matching his fierce energy every step of the way. Anchored by the seething "Hip Priest" and the wickedly sarcastic "The Classical", the latter of which is propelled by a spectacular performance by the band's two drummers, the album has the band sounding incredibly versatile throughout, from the deliberately paced krautrock tempo of "Fortress/Deer Park" to the more abstract sounds of "Iceland". You get sporadic hints of optimism ("Just Step S'ways"), only to have the mood completely shattered by songs like the venomous "Who Makes the Nazis?" and the lurching epic "And This Day". This re-release comes with a second disc crammed with extras, including one of the band's many Peel Sessions, B-sides, and live tracks, highlighted by the hilarious rarity "I'm Into C.B.". A well-assembled reissue of an essential post-punk album.
Adrien Begrand PopMatters review Amazon
It's easy to hate Jeff Lynne and his Electric Light Orchestra. But wrong. Oh so very wrong. Ridiculously good and yet even more uncool, ELO left an eccentric pop legacy that is second to none but the Beatles the clear object of Lynne's envy. Unfortunately, this year's ELO compilation, the 20 track All Over the World is not the absolutely perfect representation of the band's work that its songs deserve. It's missing "Roll Over Beethoven" and "10538 Overture", and it features a verson of "Xanadu" I'm not quite sure which is worse. Nonetheless, with songs as fine as "Turn to Stone", "Telephone Line", "Livin' Thing", and "The Diary Of Horace Wimp", there is just so much gloriously bonkers-barmy, larger-than-life pop splendor here that no sentient being could possibly resist.
Roger Holland PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
He thought of himself as a God-fearing outlaw whose career and life were almost done in by excess, both within and outside his scope. He also lived a musical career, died, and then came (musically) reborn before his body left this Earth. He was simply one of the finest musicians to ever be tied to country music. One of the few smart things that Sony did this year was release a four-disc retrospective of Mr. Johnny Cash, appropriately titled The Legend. The Legend contains a plethora of Cash's best work from every label he sang for (Rick Rubin's American Records excepted) before he was ostracized from the Nashville scene. From his very first hit "Cry Cry Cry" in 1955 to a pair of songs released in 2002, The Legend carries 104 songs (17 of them previously unreleased). Each disc has a theme for instance, the first disc ("Win, Place and Show") has every Cash hit that wound up in the top three slots on Billboard's charts. You know several of those songs ("I Walk the Line", "Ring of Fire", "A Boy Named Sue", etc.), but it's the other three discs where you will discover the power and passion that Cash brought to each song. Most of his songs can be broken down into one of three categories: love, God, and murder. Cash had the conviction to be able to sing about all three as easily as he could breathe. And what made him stand out above the rest of the country crowd is that he had the power to make YOU believe as well. If Cash could walk into Folsom Prison and San Quentin and make believers out of its residents, then common folk would never be a problem. He was one of the greatest musicians to grace this planet dare I say he's the C&W equivalent to Bob Dylan? and The Legend is one of just two necessary pieces of proof to make that point (the American grouping Unearthed is the other).
Lou Friedman PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
The best reissues immediately remind you why a band was so great. Out of print for years the good folks at Merge walked a very thin line in cleaning up and amplifying the sound of one of the '80s signature guitar band's best records while being careful to preserve much of the original's lo-fi crunch and feedback drenched wail. Hearing this record again, it's amazing how ahead of their time Mascis, Murph, and Barlow were in fusing screaming hardcore punk and blistering Sonic Youth style noise attacks to conventional song structures containing moments of sublime melody. Bottom Line: You're Living All Over Me put the rock into indie rock. The addendums to the disc (videos for "Little Fury Things" and the Cure cover "Just Like Heaven" as well as an audio-only track of "Just Like Heaven") border on meaningless; it's still J Mascis's ferocious guitar assault, atonal solos, and reedy whine that make this reissue worth the purchase.
Peter Funk PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Don't fight it; feel it. That's the guidance Sam Cooke gives to his ecstatic crowd as he opens this now-legendary Miami club date. On top of some rapturous, gritty soul music, Cooke heeds his own advice. This is, as Peter Guralnick points out in his solid liner notes, "a different Sam Cooke" than we're used to hearing: he's coarse instead of smooth, roughing up his suave crooner image like a tangle of violated hair. Signature songs like "Chain Gang", "Cupid", and "Having a Party" are dirtied and invigorated, Cooke's restless gospel pop commanding a frightening level of stamina; you can hear the band continually struggling to keep chase on his restless flight. When it all reaches a fever pitch, as on a pounding "Twistin' the Night Away", it seems that better music is an impossibility. Like James Brown's Live at the Apollo and Jerry Lee Lewis's Live at the Star Club, Hamburg, One Night Stand is a document of an untamed, undeniable talent, and a scorching set that any self-respecting music fan should own.
Zeth Lundy Amazon iTunes
Robert Smith's constant celebration of his band's Pornography/Disintegration/Bloodflowers "Trilogy of Doom" does the individual parts a disservice, robbing them of their unique identity. No album is hurt by this association more than Pornography, whose presence tends to shrink under the association with the more widely loved Disintegration and has little to gain from a relationship with Bloodflowers. The release of the Deluxe Edition of Pornography rectifies this, at least a little bit, by putting the album back into the context of the time of its original release. Pornography is, and always has been, a document of a band in despair, a band wanting to tell the world and each other to bugger off but only managing to drown in the dangerous quicksand of self-pity. Enduring the pain that seethes through every inch of the album remains one of music's more rewarding tests of listener mettle. The remastering present on the Deluxe Edition allows a little bit more of that pain to bleed through, and the rarities are further proof that when the Cure is unhappy, everything the band creates is nigh-untouchable. We always knew Pornography was incredible this reissue serves to remind us why.
Mike Schiller Amazon iTunes
The chronological, unexpurgated Talking Heads Brick traces a band whose open-minded modernism and ecumenical spirit incorporated the sounds of New York's incipient underground, transforming into a genre-bending musicological experiment before ossifying as a radio-friendly parody of its former, quirky self. Its music evolved from the dilettantish, unadorned art funk of 77, through collaborations with Brian Eno, progressing from the mutant disco of More Songs About Buildings and Food into the increasingly dense polyrhythmia found on Fear of Music. But following Remain in Light's Afrobeat fusion and the band's creative apex, Talking Heads' disintegration as critical darlings came abruptly. While David Byrne immersed himself in other projects, the rest of the band aspired to commercial success, though in retrospect it seems like something of a hollow achievement. Although the following four records yielded singles like "Wild, Wild Life", "Burning Down the House", and "And She Was", they never regained the critical notice of their earlier work. Further reflection does little to salvage those discs, but the lush remastering and additional material, which includes informative notes, bonus tracks, and previously unreleased video footage, makes Brick an impressive package.
J.T. Ramsay Amazon
Like the bevy of textured electronic records that the band's work inspired (despite its organic approach), Future Days' unceasing rhythms lay the stage for a stream of inspired instrumental interjections. Damo Suzuki's vocals, haunting in their virtual imperceptibility, are buried behind tinkering guitar licks and the cracks and wails of other instruments. When he does emerge his words are smooth and soulful, seductively lulling the listener, not jolting him as he did on previous records. In this way the album exudes a lazier sense than any other Can release, refusing to rush (like Ege Bamyasi), or to sneak up then strike (like Tago Mago). Instead, the band works a single aesthetic using warm, sluggish pseudo-psychedelic jams and drip-drop textures to create one of krautrock's major masterpieces. Its last with Suzuki, this record sees the massively influential act at their absolute height, never hinting at the "Cool in the Pool" disco abominations that were soon to follow.
Andrew Phillips PopMatters review Amazon
No small feat! John Peel single-handedly forced the evolution of rock for the better part of 40 years. With his journalistic integrity, remarkable taste, and highly influential position as Britain's premier radio broadcaster, he quickly ascended into an unchallenged god of independent and underground music, not just boosting the careers of big Brit-rock names like T.Rex, the Clash, and Oasis, but also launching the "uncommercial" sounds of punk, reggae, and hip-hop into the mainstream. Consider then, even for a second, how impossibly gargantuan it must be to go down in history as Peel's favorite band. Throughout the duration of their career, Mark E. Smith and the Fall were invited back to Peel's show a whopping 24 times, more than any other artist, and in somewhat unprecedented graciousness, managed to consistently rise to the occasion by producing their very best material during these live-in-the-studio sessions. This six-disc box set contains seven hours of the Fall's uncompromising mix of punk, country, reggae, dance, rhetoric, and pop, encapsulating everything John Peel loved about the underdog music he championed for so long, doubly serving as the finest epitaph to a beloved international legend.
Richard Williams Amazon
Given the current musical climate, someone new to Gang of Four could be forgiven for thinking the band's 1979 debut Entertainment! the best of the current crop of angular, punky dance music. It's that fresh and immediate. Anyone who has read a review of one of the discs by those other bands Bloc Party, Futureheads, Radio 4, et al knows by now, however, that this is the Rosetta Stone. It's all here: the slashing guitars, throbbing bass, and precise drumming, all pushed by the chant-like vocals decrying politicians ("I Find That Essence Rare"), the military ("Guns Before Butter"), and love gone wrong ("Anthrax"). The disc has never sounded better, or been more complete. It contains the Yellow EP like the 1995 re-issue, and tacks on alternate versions of two tracks and two live cuts, including a cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" that shows Dave Allen's bass can make anything sound like Gang of Four. The heart of the disc, and the reason for its continued relevance and must-have status, is the dozen songs of the original version. They burn with an intensity 26 years later that make today's knock-offs sound like little more than kiddie tribute bands.
John Kenyon PopMatters interview Amazon iTunes
"Okay start." With those innocuous words, whispered into a friend's tape recorder in 1959 and later reappearing as the first sounds on No Direction Home, the 18 year-old Bob Dylan took the first, tender steps of his recorded journey. Things would never be the same. The soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's documentary film, the album follows Dylan from his beginnings as a folk-singing master of synthesis through to his emergence as a divisive, live-wire rock 'n' roll visionary. The thrill of the album has less to do with the quality of its mix of live performances and alternate takes than it does with the way the carefully chosen selections let us become Zimmy's own personal Zelig witnesses to key moments in his story. Ultimately, the album tells the tale of Dylan's move from disciple to messiah to Judas. It's a ripping good yarn; someone should turn it into a movie.
David Marchese PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
As a reissue, The Holy Bible works like a puzzle piece to fill in a small but niggling hole in the history of '90s British rock at least, in the United States, where The Holy Bible was never released, shelved after the mysterious and ill-timed disappearance of the Manics' guitarist Richey Edwards. Razor sharp, dense, and aggressive, this is the album that acted as the dark opposite to Britpop, full of trenchant politics and a desperate, scrabbling despair. Moreover, this re-release works as a historical document of a band breaking out of its youthful posturing and growing into a maturity of theme and talent, captured in beautiful and poignant liner notes, and a DVD that marks this transition moment even as it records some of the final moments of one if its key player's life.
Patrick Schabe PopMatters review Amazon
Belle & Sebastian are sprinters. Their stubby, muscular legs are meant for the 100 yard dash that is the EP, not the marathon of an album. Maybe that's why people love the band, even though they don't love the albums. They don't need to with Push Barman to Open Old Wounds. Simultaneously pleasing diehard fans too cheap to purchase the EPs individually and curious indie pop bandwagon jumpers, Merge's repackaging of B&S's EP catalog stands as the band's best work. It's all here: the childish delicacy of the vocals, the Scottish humor, and the giddy story of Belle and the boy Se-bas-ti-an. I dare you to not grin like an idiot.
David Bernard PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
It's hard to imagine a more significant album in the histories of either electronic music or instrumental hip-hop. It's been hailed by some as the greatest ever example of the former, and is almost single-handedly responsible for creating the latter (or at least defining it a genre something capable of supporting a full album). It was so potently realized at the time of its release that, eight years and counting after the fact, it still sounds like nothing so much as itself this despite constant attempts on the part of a generation of lesser DJs to duplicate the inimitable. Thankfully, while the "Deluxe Edition" rubric has sometimes been an excuse to reissue albums of questionable pedigree with regrettable outtakes and forgettable rarities, the Deluxe Edition of Endtroducing... is a perfect example of a worthy album legitimately improved by well-chosen supplemental material. The alternate edits and impossibly rare remixes on the bonus disc achieve the admirable feat of placing this incredible music into a fuller and more revealing context.
Tim O'Neil PopMatters review Amazon iTunes
Twenty years before "Welcome to the Jungle", Iggy Pop and the Stooges descended into the heart of that sludgy, urban darkness with a sophomore record that made good on their dunderheaded name. The album's one-chord vamps are more like ritual war dances of violent self-expression than actual songs; the stray cat struts and razor-sharp riffs of tracks like "Loose" and "T.V. Eye" are some of the most abusive in '70s rock. Iggy sounds like a man who's been beaten to within an inch of his life, howling barbaric yawps from the vantage point of city pavement soiled in night. While the original album remains the main reason to own this reissue (the remastering boasts a radical improvement in sound quality), Rhino's two-disc set includes an extra disc of outtakes, which gets you uncomfortably close to pre-punk nirvana. Altamont may have been the metaphoric death of '60s idealism, but an ugly detox freak-out like "L.A. Blues" pulls the trigger for real.
Zeth Lundy Amazon
When we caught up with Springsteen on 1987's Tunnel of Love, the engines weren't turning a far cry from Born to Run's promise of escape on the open road. That wasn't all Springsteen had to offer in '75, though, with the E Street Band firing on all cylinders like the Church of Rock's house band. Born to Run was where Springsteen crystalized his major themes: cars, rock as deliverance, the struggle to get ahead, the ghosts of the past, and offers to girls of many names to take his hand. And at 24, he penned one of rock's more honest seductions in "Thunder Road". To commemorate the disc's release, this expanded edition doesn't skimp, offering two DVDs in addition to the remastered album: an uneven making-of documentary, but also a ragged, intense full-length 1975 Hammersmith Odeon show that's not to be missed.
Andrew Gilstrap Amazon iTunes