Thanks to the graft of reissue labels and canny collectors, there’s an embarrassment of neglected, forgotten or misunderstood material being unearthed week by week
The volume of new-old music doesn’t outpace new-new music, of course, but it’s not too far behind either. With so many more archival releases turning up on shelves, we’ve worked though the stacks to pick our 10 favourite reissues and retrospectives of the last month.
Chief among December’s litter, which, lamentably, arrived too late to be included in our best reissues of 2013 list: a Numbers classic, tricked out by Ricardo Villalobos; hypnotic/terrifying Greek fire-walking music; lost teenybopper pabulum from Austria; and, back on vinyl for the first time in 35 years, the album where Scott Walker started getting really, really weird.
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THE SPACE LADY
The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits
Culter than cult, The Space Lady is proper outsider pop aristocracy, and a memorable inclusion in Irwin Chusid’s eye-opening Songs in the Key of Z book. Starting life as a street performer in Boston and moving to tie-dye Ground Zero Haight-Ashbury in the early 1980s, The Space Lady proved hard to miss – a fantasy figure dressed in a gimcrack winged helmet, performing covers of ger-oovy pop hits on street corners with Casio keyboard, headset mic and phase shifter in tow.
Night School’s compilation assembles a selection of zonked covers, plus a smattering of originals, recorded in the early days of her act. The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits is straightforward enough to appeal to the Nouvelle Vague set, but it’s absolutely not a goofy novelty job – these are hypnotic readings that smudge and smother their source material. The Doors’ ’20th Century Fox’ is reimagined as something that might have cropped up on The Ann Steel Album; ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’ becomes a straight-up extraterrestrial encounter; and ‘Born To Be Wild’ melts down Steppenwolf’s galloping original into a viscous silvery goo. Between her pretty croon and the amniotic tape hiss, it’s an album to swaddle yourself in – a cosmic cuddle in lo-fi.
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Numbers, lest we forget, began life as a coalition of three Glaswegian imprints: Wireblock (home to Hudson Mohawke and Lory D), Dress 2 Sweat (L-Vis 1990 & Bok-Bok, Starkey) and Stuffrecords (Rustie, TVO). To toast the 10th anniversary of their Numbers party last year, the super-label put out a welcome reissue of Dave Clark’s 2002 single ‘Portland’ – the debut Stuffrecords release, and still a high-voltage zinger.
Recorded from hardware to tape, ‘Portland’ – an amber-lit electro cut with some of Maurice Fulton genetic material – fizzes with life. The real draw, however, is Richardo Villalobos’ marathon two-part remix, specially commissioned for this release. ‘Part 1’ is a close relation to the original, a wind-blasted edit that clings to ‘Portland”s perky hook for dear life. ‘Part 2′, meanwhile, is more of a cousin-twice-removed, a surly dub-techno jam that recalls Andy Stott at his moodiest. Interestingly, Villalobos’ mix is something of a BOGOF affair as well – it’s designed to work at both 33 and 45rpm, although we’d advise sticking to the former.
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Has Anyone Seen Our Freedoms?
Peter Walker’s 1966 LP Rainy Day Raga sits alongside The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death and The Seal of the Blue Lotus as one of the great head-twisting folk albums of the 1960s, helping pull Eastern drone disciplines into the American idiom. December saw the singer dig a previously unreleased 1970 album, Has Anybody Seen Our Freedoms?, out of his basement, and it’s a gorgeous addition to his catalogue. Made up of one-take studio recordings, it’s a gentle and heartsore collection; although the raga elements are still there, Walker sounds much more interested in the ill-governed passion of flamenco. This being Walker, the playing is tangled and intricate, and his vocal delivery – halting, almost Tourettic – gives the record a spring-loaded quality. Comes with an expansive (read: 40 page) essay from Delmore boss Mark Linn.
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ANAΣΤΕΝΑΡΙΑ: Music Of The Fire Walkers
The Anastenaria is an Orthodox Christian firewalking ritual, primarily practised in certain rural enclaves of Northern Greece, and accompanied by folk music and dancing. Originally issued on CDr by Echomusic and Editions Zero in 2008, ANAΣΤΕΝΑΡΙΑ: Music Of The Fire Walkers presents a string of 1979 recordings of this unique cultural practice. It’s more than just a curio, offering Kaa-grade levels of hypnotic intensity, closer in spirit to Ghédalia Tazartès than the folklorist fodder you might expect. Thudding tribal drums and wild fiddle playing dominate, creating an uneasy folk music overlaid with indistinct crowd chatter and strangulated singing. For all the devotional elements, there’s an undeniable occult charge to these recordings too: there are moments where what first sounds like tape hiss turns out to be the audible crackle of flames. This debut vinyl edition, curated by Berceuse Heroique sister label ΚΕΜΑΛ, bolts on remixes from two artists used to dragging their listeners over hot coals – former Yellow Swans’ troublemaker Pete Swanson, and fellow noise-to-techno émigré Vatican Shadow.
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THE WALKER BROTHERS
Now that he’s ascended to auteur status, it’s easy to forget that Scott Walker’s had a hand in some properly dodgy releases. Indeed, The Walker Brothers’ largely ignominious late 1970s phase – see 1975’s No Regrets and 1976’s Lines – saw the trio stride directly into the middle of the road then lie down for a nap. Thank heavens, then, for 1978’s Nite Flights – the record that paved the way for Walker’s astonishing reinvention as harrowed avant-garde seer. Essentially a three-part showcase for each of the Walkers, Nite Flights features Scott’s stunning drone-heavy ‘The Electrician’, plus ugly, visceral songs like ‘Fat Mam Kick’ and ‘Shut Out’.
Remarkably, Tizona’s reissue is the album’s first vinyl pressing since its release – move swiftly to avoid disappointment (and, once you’ve done that, skip the John and Gary sections for the same reasons). Walker neophytes are advised to check out Angus Finlayson’s beginner’s guide/labour-of-love for FACT, The Essential…Scott Walker.
Oh, and happy birthday Scott.
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THE VELVET UNDERGROUND
White Light / White Heat
What to add to the reams of scholarship, myth making and panted praise? ‘Sister Ray’, ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’, ‘The Gift’ – The Velvet Underground’s 1968 LP remains required reading for anyone interested in rock’n’roll with plenty ideas and a leaky spleen. Nico and Warhol are nowhere to be seen, and the result is the Velvets at their scruffiest and shittiest. Universal’s 45th anniversary edition goes to town, bundling remastered stereo and mono versions of the album, outtakes, new mixes and bonus cuts. An additional live set, laid down at NYC’s Gymnasium in 1967, completes the package. Pop that on your Quattro formaggi.
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Schnitzelbeat Vol. 1
Billed by Trash Rock Archives as a “disturbing voyage into the lesser known realms of Austrian Pop culture”, Schnitzelbeat clusters together strange, screwy and almost entirely forgotten early rock’n’roll from 1950s/1960s Austria. If the thought of listening to ‘Biggy’s Little Car’ by The Shamrocks sends your twee sensors into overdrive, best to leave this one; if not, there’s plenty of weirdo tucker to slop into your Roggenbrot. The best tracks arrive courtesy of The Austrian Evergreens – who do a nice line in Joe Meek-indebted studio lunacy – and sozzled garage rockers Hannes Patek & The Vienna Beatles. For every unremarkable beat combo effort, there are some oddities too: Werner Gavac’s shoddily recorded ‘I Love You Baby!’ sounds like something that might creep into earshot during one of Negativland’s Over The Edge shows, and Die 4 Bambi’s ‘Inka City’ is cut from the same weird cloth as ‘Telstar’. Felix Kubin goofball operatics will find plenty to enjoy.
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A Gilded Eternity
Last seen headlining All Tomorrow’s Parties’ End Of An Era event, Robert Hampson’s revered psych-rock unit have also been giving their back catalogue an airing over the last year. Summer brought a reissue of their heady 1988 LP Fade Out, and last month saw 1990’s follow-up A Gilded Eternity appearing on vinyl for the first time since its release. A Gilded Eternity takes the ideas explored on Heaven’s Gate and Fade Out – the darker end of vintage psyche, guitar feedback, lashings of reverb – to a logical conclusion: the noxious chug of ‘Afterglow’ or the dub-chamber guitar pop of ‘Blood’ rank among their best work. Comes bundled with an ancillary 7″, featuring ‘The Nail Will Burn (Burn Out)’ and ‘Show With A Diamond’.
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Since the early 1990s, engineer/musician Colin Potter has been a fixed part of Steven Stapleton’s amorphous Nurse With Wound group, and he’s had a hand in records by Current 93 and Organum. He’s also travelled the hinterlands alone, releasing albums with reasonable regularity since the turn of the 1980s. 1981’s Two Nights is his first official LP release, and it’s an excellent point of entry into a long and convoluted discography. Laid down in Potter’s North Yorkshire base, it’s relatively accessible one-man-band business – glowering synth patterns in a Carpenter mould, set to a motorik beat and set off with some Göttsching-style guitar posturing. Deep Distance’s new edition arrived in an edition of 500 with new sleeve notes from Potter himself, and, it now being January, is now officially a bugger to track down. Sorry.
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The Stargate Tapes
Before Peaking Lights cornered the ‘cute New Age couple-cum-band’ market, there were Florida duo Emerald Web. Working together over the best part of the 1980s, Bob Stohl and Kat Epple developed prototypic synths (including the Lyricon wind synth), made soundtracks for the likes of NASA and Carl Sagan, and clocked up a Grammy nomination in the process. They also amassed a cache of twinkly-eyed computer music, spread across a dozen-odd official albums. B-Music’s compilation turns the spotlight on their earliest works – four cassette albums released between 1979 and 1982, most of which make their non-tape debut on this set. Cooing New Age that’s saccharine without becoming sickly.