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Music

The 30 Best Album Re-Issues of 2015

The music world saw amazing reissues from all over the genre map, spanning rock titans to indie upstarts and experimental to folk.

Artist: Patrick Cowley

Album: Muscle Up

Label: Dark Entries

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Patrick Cowley
Muscle Up

When considering the best music heard in any given year, one rarely gravitates to the realm of gay porn soundtracks. And yet, Patrick Cowley's work heard in the illicit films released by John Coletti's Fox Studio in the early '80s is arguably some of the finest music ever synched to visuals. In his most famous pieces, namely "Menergy" and "Megatron Man", Cowley helped forge the influential hardcore disco offshoot known as Hi-NRG, having previously launched Sylvester to international fame with his synthesizer work on 1978's Step II. Channeling influence from contemporary synth masters Isao Tomita, Tangerine Dream, Wendy Carlos and Giorgio Moroder, the work he sent to Coletti was some of his most experimental. Recorded in a period between 1973 and 1980, the styles on Muscle Up range from sci-fi ambient and electro-funk to mutant-disco and proto-techno, utilizing instruments like the Putney, E-MU System and Serge from his student days in the Electronic Music Lab, which he co-founded at the City College of San Francisco, to his personal collection of synths, tweaked guitars, and hand-built gizmos. While its origins may be dubious, this is staggering evidence of the magnitude of genius the world lost when Cowley passed away from AIDS in 1982. -- Alan Ranta

 
Artist: Faith No More

Album: Angel Dust

Label: Rhino / Slash

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List number: 29

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Faith No More
Angel Dust

One year before Nirvana gave the world its abrasive, casual-fan-repelling statement, Faith No More gave listening audiences their own In Utero with Angel Dust. It was the band's first album where lead singer Mike Patton was able to steer the band into his Zappa-meets Sabbath musical direction. Like the infamous inner sleeve art, showing a butchered animal, Angel Dust was brutal, ugly, and demanding of your attention. More than 20 years later, it has easily surpassed their commercial smash The Real Thing in terms of relevancy. The second disc may run a bit thin on content (a few above average live tracks), but the real reason to buy the reissue of Angel Dust is to simply revisit the gorgeous marriage of beauty and darkness in tracks like "A Small Victory", "Midlife Crisis", and "Everything's Ruined". -- Sean McCarthy

 
Artist: Silkworm

Album: It'll Be Cool

Label: Touch and Go

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Silkworm
It'll Be Cool

It is a sweet mercy that most bands never get to make a ninth album. With their first idea often being their best, most are running on fumes by number two or three. Of course, in the case of Silkworm all usual orthodoxy goes out the window. It'll Be Cool, Silkworm's ninth and final full album, features songwriting and playing as intelligent, peculiar, delirious, and specifically 'Worm as ever. Featuring among others, a rocker about Caesar that's grand enough to accompany any conquest of Gaul, a brain-dissolving, narco-woozy acoustic number, and a song about hockey with a certifiably unhinged guitar solo, it's the sound of this most vital band at the height of their creative powers, chasing down their own entirely unique muse. Originally released in 2004, November 2015 saw this classic album's first ever vinyl release. Recorded by Steve Albini, It'll Be Cool hits hard while being replete with warmth and space. It's an album that deserves to be heard at last on the premium format. And finally it would be remiss not to give particular mention to "Don't Look Back", It'll Be Cool's monumental opening track. Building itself up and up to an ecstatic height in the manner of Neil Young's "I'm the Ocean", it is as good as rock music gets. -- Paul Duffus

 
Artist: Kenny Knight

Album: Crossroads

Label: Paradise of Bachelors

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Kenny Knight
Crossroads

The North Carolina-based label Paradise of Bachelors released some of the year's best albums by interesting, innovative contemporary musicians: Gun Outfit, Jake Xerxes Fussell, James Elkington & Nathan Salzburg, the Weather Station and others. Yet they also continued their mission to unearth underheard classics of the past, like this stunning country-rock stroll co-released with Numero. A mechanic who played in garage bands, Kenny Knight released this in 1980, in small quantities, yet heard blind you'd assume it's from the early '70s.There's a timeless quality to it actually, in musical style but also the subject matter, in the existential journeys of the songs' protagonists, travelling through America in search of open doors and a sense of home. -- Dave Heaton

 
Artist: Van Morrison

Album: Astral Weeks

Label: Rhino

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Van Morrison
Astral Weeks

Consider the world that Astral Weeks came into: it was a world in which Van Morrison was a teen heartthrob, the baby-faced singer behind "Brown Eyed Girl". Who would have expected that man to respond to his commercial success with the kind of album that demanded to be taken as art? Astral Weeks both requires and rewards replays; each listen uncovers something new, be it some previously-unheard flourish from Van's backing band or some inflection in his voice that gives "Cyprus Avenue" or "Sweet Thing" an entirely different meaning. Lyrically, Van moved on from teenage romance to dark character studies and dreamlike wandering through his consciousness. These are ideas that Van was able to filter through a more conventional songwriting lens later on in his career, but the ambition, scope, and majesty of Astral Weeks is something that few artists can ever match. -- Kevin Korber

 
Artist: Alessandro Alessandroni

Album: Industrial

Label: Dead-Cert Home Entertainment

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Alessandro Alessandroni
Industrial

Lord only knows where Andy Votel and his pals keep digging up records like this, but one hopes they never stop. Produced in 1976 for a subscription imprint, yet remaining commercially unreleased until Dead-Cert got their hands on it, Industrial shows a dark side of Alessandro Alessandroni, the childhood pal of Ennio Morricone who would go on to craft dozens of brilliant film scores himself, as well as a wealth of library material. Recorded at Rome's Sound Work Shop, the house Piero Umiliani built, Industrial bends the disparate timbres of teased guitars, dramatic strings, tape loops, treated grand and honky tonk pianos, and a modified EMS Synthi VC3 modular system into singular edgy, metallic visions that seldom, if ever, venture familiar ground, particularly in the context of their creation. If this had been widely released when it was made, Alessandroni would be earning as much of the pioneering praise that is currently placed at the feet of Throbbing Gristle. -- Alan Ranta

 
Artist: Red House Painters

Album: Red House Painters

Label: 4AD

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Red House Painters
Red House Painters

Mark Kozelek has been writing songs long before he found critical acclaim with Sun Kil Moon's Benji and critical derision by being an asshole in real life. For all of the merits of his recent musical work, though, his earlier work with Red House Painters might be his finest. Throughout the 1990s, Red House Painters quietly put out some of the best, most affecting music of the decade. These four hours, all released on 4AD, capture Kozelek at his most honest, long before his honesty became an affectation. Many of the songs from these four albums ("Mistress", "Grace Cathedral Park", and "San Geronimo", just to name a few) are stone classics, and Kozelek's vision is clearer when expressed in the environment of a full band. Hopefully, these albums won't be lost to the fading mists of time, even if Kozelek himself seems intent on abandoning this form of songwriting for something closer to word vomit. Whatever the case, these four albums will stand as a reminder of just how great Kozelek can be. -- Kevin Korber

 
Artist: Lizzy Mercier Descloux

Album: Press Color

Label: Light in the Attic

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Lizzy Mercier Descloux
Press Color

Making her way from France to New York's Lower East Side in the late '70s, where she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Patti Smith and Richard Hell, Lizzy Mercier Descloux's debut album is improbably unique. Made in 1979 with drummer Jimmy Young and guitarists D.J Banes and Erik Eliasson, it's all over the map stylistically, forging elements of disco, reggae, punk, and R&B into her brand of leftfield No Wave art-pop. We're talking infectiously groovy covers of "Fire" by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Lalo Schifrin compositions "Jim on the Move" and the "Mission Impossible" theme alongside warped originals like the creepy "Torso Corso" or the dubby, birdlike conversation piece "No Golden Throat", while she replaced the titular word from the old Little Willie John standard "Fever" with "Tumor" to hilariously subvert its sexual tension. At a time when New York was dirty and crumbling, hence films like Taxi Driver and The Warriors, Press Color was a spark of humor and, indeed, color. Having been re-sequenced and enhanced by the inclusion of the entire Rosa Yemen EP as well as four bonus tracks, this album has only gotten better with age. -- Alan Ranta

 
Artist: Loren Connors

Album: Blues: The Dark Paintings of Mark Rothko

Label: Family Vineyard

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Loren Connors
Blues: The Dark Paintings of Mark Rothko

Experimental guitarist Loren Connors has a massive discography filled with hidden treasures. This one was originally released in 1990, in a run of about 200, under the name Guitar Roberts.That was a decade or so into his recorded career, so his inherent sound was established. Yet this is an avant-garde musician who is always evolving. The especially minimalist approach here does represent something new, even within Connors' world of perpetual newness: a greater step towards the haunting minimalist blues that is one of his many specialties. A six-string and a four-track are the tools, plus the hands of a maestro whose work can probe unexpected emotional depths considering how purposely primitive and spare it seems. That's not unlike Rothko. The pairing implied by the title seems an obvious one in retrospect. Connors' music contains infinity within so little, much like Rothko's paintings. The depth in these seven instrumentals makes it jaw-dropping to consider that just a couple hundred people had likely heard this until now. That's the true value of reissues; forget the endless repackaging of 'canon' albums meant to perpetuate big business. -- Dave Heaton

 
Artist: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Album: Junk Culture (Deluxe Edition)

Label: Virgin / EMI Records

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Junk Culture (Deluxe Edition)

Junk Culture was not OMD's most acclaimed album, but it just might be a perfectly efficient primer on what makes the British synthesizer band so special. Leaders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys positioned themselves exactly between the moody experimentalism of their early work and the saccharine professionalism of "If You Leave" and the like. The result was a trio of immaculate pop singles in "Tesla Girls", "Locomotion", and "Talking Loud and Clear", set against an eclectic, equally-accomplished backdrop. "Never Turn Away" was beautiful, but beauty was only part of the story. Overlooked at the time was Junk Culture's willingness to look the unsavory aspects of the "Me Decade" square in the eye. "Love and Violence", "White Trash", "Hard Day", the title track itself -- these were not the sweetness or the sass expected of synthpop at the time. Delectable melodies and all, Junk Culture was wonderfully at odds with the world it was created in. -- John Bergstrom

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