Let’s think about Herb Alpert for a minute. He and the Tijuana Brass made perfectly pleasant music. And if you dig into any yard sale crate or Goodwill bin, and attic space or basement, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble on a copy of one of his records. They are everywhere, and they come cheap. If you’re looking to stock up, you can get a lot for very little. Why, then, would anyone drop $20-plus for new pressings of those records? What makes those reissues necessary?
The point is that it’s easy to side-eye reissues, especially as people scramble to cash in on the move toward vinyl as the physical format for music (though some of us do still love CDs, too for the, um, record). But for every Herb Alpert repressing, there are some thoughtful, necessary reissues coming out, and this year has given us some memorable ones. Prince, the Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, and Elliott Smith all got generous new releases of classic albums this year. Some essential Alice Coltrane recordings were unearthed. And plenty of under-the-radar acts got some new attention. So here we’re celebrating some of the best reissues of 2017 so far, the reissues that feel like rewards or unearthed gems, that make us reconsider even the most well-known albums. The classic, the forgotten, the unsung — it’s all here.
Angelo Badalamenti: Twin Peaks – Fire Walk With Me OST (Death Waltz)
Thanks to labels like Death Waltz, it’s been a pretty good time for soundtrack reissues recently. On top of many other great releases, the label followed up last year’s reissue of the Twin Peaks soundtrack, with this reissue of the soundtrack for David Lynch’s film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which served as a prequel of sorts of the cult-hit TV show. Like the TV show, and so many Lynch projects, the soundtrack was composed and recorded by Angelo Badalamenti, and it’s a remarkable set, one that deserves to step out from the shadow of the show’s iconic soundtrack (the film itself, for what it’s worth, also deserves it’s moment in the sun). There is a gauzy tune sung by Julee Cruise, and a medley that includes some of the most famous music from the show, but on Fire Walk With Me, Badalamenti created an excellent, and eccentric, jazz record. The bulk of the tunes, like the film’s main theme and “The Pine Float,” deliver noir-jazz, all rainy saxophone, percussion, and thumping bass. The band here is fantastic, and if the whole album played it that straight, it would still be excellent. But Badalamenti uses jazz as a home base from which to explore loosely connected tangents. The album shifts to the haunted torch singing of “Sycamore Trees,” then to Waitsian spoken-word funk on “Sycamore Trees,” and to the scuffed blues of “The Pink Room.” Like Lynch’s films, the album is capable of hairpin tone shifts, like when the odd negative space of “The Black Dog Runs At Night” cuts to the wistful “Best Friends.” The soundtrack to Fire Walk With Me is an album that can stand on its own, outside of the cult of David Lynch and the long-standing fascination with the show. This beautifully packaged reissue gives it the due it deserves.
Dr. Octagon: Dr. Octagonecologist (Get On Down)
On the back of CD copies of the Dr. Octagonecologist, there’s a note urging you not to listen to the album on CD. It claims you’ll be missing out on key sounds in the music if you do. This could be true, or it could be the kind of confusion that Kool Keith liked to revel in, or a bit of both. Either way, Keith’s claims alone about the sound of his classic collaboration with Dan the Automator make for a compelling reason behind this expansively repackaged 3-LP reissue of the album. The sheer heft of the package hints at the impact of the album, one that should have been too weird to last, but instead produces a set of eccentric songs so carefully crafted, full of so many fascinating rabbit holes — musically and lyrically — that it stands alone to this day. And yet it still resonates, from the more approachable moments like “Earth People” and “No Awareness” to the odd bodily stories of “Blue Flower” and “Halfsharkalligatorhalfman.” Over Dan the Automator’s gutted, gorgeous, sometimes snarling beats, Dr. Octagon (always that name on this album, never Kool Keith) unravels hyper-wordy verses that seem to follow their own sense of time, of image, of rhyme scheme. And yet they work. They fascinate, even when they choose to repel Dr. Octagon’s lyrics draw the listener in, if only to catch that one phrase you missed the first time. He revels in his strangeness here, rolling these songs out using serious rap chops mixed with a wild-eyed glee. It’s a huge album, a lot to take in, and maybe one great effect of this 3-LP set is you get to take a breath to turn the record before you dive into another side. But dive in you should — no matter how odd, how singular, how much it defies trends of expectations, Dr. Octagonecologist is a bonafide classic.
Geraldine Fibbers: Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home (Jealous Butcher)
With apologies to Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks, and their ilk, Geraldine Fibbers’ Lost Somewhere Between the Earth and My Home is much closer to something you’d call alt-country, emphasis on the alt. Those bands were inventive in their way, but always indebted more to the tradition than the breaking of it. For Carla Bozulich’s band Geraldine Fibbers, the country tinges are buried under layers of distorted guitar or twisted into something aching and fierce. This 1995 album, long out of print and now available on vinyl, does loud-quiet-loud like no other band at the time. The strings on “Marmalade,” for instance, echo the silence rather than fill it up before the distortion blooms into being, rather than just bursting forth. On “Dragon Lady,” Bozulich sings sweetly through the spare chorus before her vocals come unhinged in the bleary noise of the chorus. These songs are taut but epic, from the sweeping highs and lows of opener “Lilybelle” to the scuffed-up waltz of “Outside of Town,” the album pulls from indie-rock trends at the time, harsher noise-rock, and gets that country dust on these songs without ever having to twang. These musical shifts and confusions provide fittingly raw, resilient backdrops for the nervy emotion of Bozulich’s lyrics. This is an angry, exposed, triumphant record, one as damaged as it is strong, as in-your-head lasting as it is uniquely challenging. It is a true alternative — to country, to indie rock, to confessional music, to you name it. And it deserves this new attention.
Helium: The Dirt of Luck/The Magic City/No Guitars EP/Ends With And (Matador)
To revisit the Helium catalog is, of course, to be amazed by the guitar work and songwriting of Mary Timony. These reissues succeed merely by putting The Dirt of Luck and The Magic City (packaged with the equally excellent No Guitars EP) back on vinyl in great packages, and then adding the odds ‘n sods collection Ends With And. There’s also a sense of progression here, though, and interplay. The Dirt of Luck still sounds like a stone-cold classic, but The Magic City may age even better, as it sharpens the edges of the first record but also expands the palate. And No Guitars — which, yes, has plenty of guitar — feels like a further extension of that album’s wide sound. As the songs expanded out into fantasy, the music dug its claws into the turf, and Timony and band member Ash Bowie (also of Polvo) tangled up their sounds in fascinating, near-chaotic ways. Though Timony is and should be lauded as one of the great guitar players in rock music in recent memory, these aren’t mere guitar albums. These are records about conflicting textures, melding genres, and odd structures. The albums are as daring and surprising, even now, as they are immediate and infectious. Ends With And, the large rarities collection, will remind you how good, say, the Pirate Pride EP is, and likely add some new songs to your list of Helium favorites.
Glenn Jones: This is the Wind That Blows It Out/Against Which the Sea Continually Beats (Thrill Jockey)
Thrill Jockey is in the midst of a great run of reissues, but none may be more welcome than these repressings of guitarist Glenn Jones’s first two albums. Both albums were originally pressed on CD in the mid-2000s, are out of print, and sound excellent now. Since releasing these albums, Jones has been at the forefront of innovation in the solo guitar world, with his inventive tunings and impressive compositions. Going back to these two records, though, doesn’t provide preamble or set-up. These didn’t lead to what came next. Jones’s first two albums present the guitarist — already a veteran of the band Cul De Sac — fully formed and ready to be a solo artist. The two albums also compliment each other well. 2004’s This is the Wind That Blows it Out is the more somber of the two, with the expansively lonesome “Sphinx Unto Curious Men” and “The Doll Hospital.” But the quiet and the melancholy here also quietly pay tribute. “Fahey’s Car” glides along, paying tribute to John Fahey, while closer “One Jack Rose (That I Mean)” honors Jones’s contemporary, Jack Rose, who passed away sadly in 2009. Against Which the Sea Continually Beats is a nascent light after the shadows of its predecessor. “Freedom Raga” etches out space and then Jones’s finger-picking bounces through the holes in the composition. “The Teething Necklace (For John Fahey)” moves past tribute and expands on Fahey’s palate, offering a tune that feels both intimate and all encompassing, both traditional and inventive. These two albums don’t suggest a starting point for Glenn Jones so much as suggest he’s been a keystone player in modern guitar music much longer than we thought. These albums play off of each other, butt up against each other, and reveal some of Jones’s finest playing and song composing. For fans of solo guitar, these are no less than essential.
Mike Krol: Mike Krol Is Never Dead: The First Two Records (Merge)
This double-LP reissue from Merge Records comprises Mike Krol’s first two albums, 2011’s self-released I Hate Jazz and 2013’s Trust Fund. Both were limited to 500 copies and have long been unavailable. But for those who first came to Krol on his first Merge release, Turkey, this reissue is a treasure trove of quick-fire rock tunes. Krol doesn’t waste time — very few songs here crack the two-minute mark — but collecting these two records together shows the breadth of Krol’s pop sensibility under his noisy, brittle, lo-fi sound. Songs like “Fifteen Minutes,” “Grade School Love,” and “California” are all perfect pop moments, speeding along while Krol bays and howls, but the hooks dig deep and last long past the songs’ short run times. Played together, the albums feel less like a retrospective and more like one, unified grand statement. Sure you can see progression, how the psych-pop of “A Million Times” on I Hate Jazz sets up the gauzy blast of “Teeth Grinder” on Trust Fund, for example. Mostly, though, as a collection, you see how the brevity of the songs belie the scope of Krol’s pop sensibility and musical vision. The sound here, distorted and loud, subtly expands out as it goes, the tight circles these nervous songs trod stretch wider and wider. And included with this reissue is a glut of demos and extra tracks that reveal the polish and focus of these seemingly off-the-cuff songs. These songs are quirky, sometimes self-effacing, but never frivolous. Under every smirk is a deep want. These two albums find Krol constructing a power-pop Trojan Horse. You’ll let him in with catchy hooks and self-deprecating charm. But then, under that, you hear what these songs are really doing. And then it’s too late.
Look Blue Go Purple: Still Bewitched (Flying Nun)
When you think about New Zealand label Flying Nun Records and the Dunedin sound, Look Blue Go Purple may not be the first band that comes to mind. You might think of the Clean or the Verlaines instead. But Still Bewitched argues that Look Blue Go Purple is as influential and important any other band from the label’s ’80s halcyon days. Still Bewitched collects the band’s three EPs released from 1985 to 1988 — Bewitched, LBGPEP2, and This Is Us — along with a set of live tracks to provide a whole picture of the band’s career. The band members — Francesca Griffin (or Kathy Bull), Denise Roughan, Kath Webster, Lesley Paris, and Norma O’Malley — play in lock-step with one another, crafting tight pop tunes one after the other. The songs on Bewitched align with the jangle-pop Flying Nun sound, but “100 Times” adds a unique, shadowy wrinkle to the formula. By the time the band got to “Circumspect Penelope” on LBGPEP2, they’d added a sharper angle to their songs, and the songs on This Is Us combine the band’s pop sense with its rock muscle to produce should-be classics like “I Don’t Want You Anyway.” Still Bewitched is a fitting celebration, wrapping with fiery live performances that drive home the band’s chemistry, to a band that shaped a lot of indie rock that followed in its wake.
The Manikins: From Broadway to Blazes (Manufactured Recordings)
When Australian punks the Cheap Nasties disbanded in the late-70s, members went on to form the Scientists and the Manikins. The Scientists were remembered well last year with an excellent box set reissue from Numero Group. The band has been rightly celebrated, but the Manikins have perhaps garnered less attention. But now From Broadway to Blazes should correct that problem. Where the Scientists turned towards grimy rock music, the Manikins dealt in crunchy, catchy power-pop. This collection brings together the band’s long out-of-print singles, music from their self-released cassette, and plenty of other studio and unreleased recordings. The 30-track, 90-minute collection is a huge chunk of music to dig through, but it rewards at every turn. Songs like “I Never Thought I’d Find Someone Who Could Be So Kind” and “Love at Second Sight” deliver big hooks and bigger choruses, while “Julie” and “Modern Girls” whip up the punk fury around the band’s tight melodies. There’s a remarkable variety here, from the organ-heavy “Talk Talk” to the glimmering pop of “Joy to the World” to the spacious dream-pop feel of “Wonder Drug.” But what’s amazing here is the consistency. The Manikins could shift their sound and still sound like themselves, but they never lost sense of their strengths — the angular guitars slashing into the tight percussion, the frenetic energy of the vocals, and catchy choruses. The Manikins were all about the moment, the song, the hook, which is why this stuff — whether it intended to or not — sounds so damned lasting now.
Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Sam/Saga)
This “lost” Monk album, comprising recordings made for the soundtrack to Roger Vadim’s film Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is full of sides you’ve heard Monk record before. There’s two takes of “Rhythm-a-Ning,” two of “Crepuscule with Nellie” and “Light Blue,” three of “Pannonica,” and so on. But Monk always managed to pull new things out of established tunes as he shifted from setting to setting, band to band. And these recordings are no exception. The sound, for one, is crisp and bright throughout, the dynamics between the players as clear and bracing as if you were watching them lay it all down. Monk and his band are in top form, too, with typically brilliant turns from Charlie Rouse on sax, Sam Jones on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. The addition of Barney Wilen here, also on sax, adds a new dimension to these songs that make them come alive in new ways. Beyond the plainly stunning performances, this collection and its extensive liner notes gives us a sense of Monk as band leader and composer. We see how different takes shift the shading on songs, brighten them up or add a hint of blue. And we get — at the collection’s end — the band setting up to record “Light Blue,” giving us insight into how the band brought these tunes to life. Top to bottom, this is a must-own for jazz fans. It’s a set of great sides that also adds another chapter to the complex story of Thelonious Monk.
Radiohead: OK Computer: OKNOTOK 1997-2017 (Capitol/XL)
Considering OK Computer‘s classic status as a groundbreaking record, this year’s reissue might seem at first blush pretty run of the mill. It does what reissues do: remasters the album, adds in some b-sides and EP tracks from the era, and tacks on a couple unreleased tracks for good measure. On paper, it seems simple, but in execution it actually adds something to the story of the album. For one, Radiohead completists get solid studio versions of “I Promise,” “Man-O-War,” and “Lift.” They are lined up with the b-sides from the Airbag/How Is My Driving? EP and final track “How I Made My Millions.” But the bonus content pushes beyond that. It goes without saying that OK Computer is still fresh and brilliant, but these other 11 songs comprise a sort of lost Radiohead album, one that acts as a revealing hinge between OK Computer and its predecessor, The Bends. The songs had the direct nerve of the latter, but start to carve out the odd holes and pixelated cracks of the former. Where before these albums felt like brilliant, separate, even distant islands, these songs create a sort of land bridge between them, and tilt the angle we see this classic album at just enough to make it seem new again.