The 25 best reissues and retrospectives of 2017

Mikey “IQ” Jones takes an in-depth look at 25 of the year’s best reissues and retrospectives, from Japanese city pop and pastoral ambience to Radiophonic dub and devotional music.

Before we dive face first into this hot sonic mess, I want to draw attention to some honorable mentions. Some were omitted simply for space and the obvious nature of their status, others got the boot due to logistics and finicky pressing details – sorry The Other People Place. Some, like The Necessaries’ excellent Event Horizon LP, were omitted due to my direct involvement.

You won’t find Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s Symphonic Suite: AKIRA on the list because as beautiful a work as it remains, quite frankly, there have been so many different versions of it floating around for years now in so many format, it feel excessive. And then there’s Roland Kayn’s A Little Electronic Milky Way Of Sound: 14 hours of spectacular modular synthesis so elaborate, immersive and immaculately constructed that I still haven’t made it through the entire damned set. Frozen Reeds also happened to take the top spot on the list last year.

Best reissues of 2017

25. The Milky Way
Summertime Love Song
(Tower To The People)

The Milky Way’s lone 1979 LP Summertime Love Song is one of the pinnacles of the Japanese city pop sound – a chic, breezy style that blends mellow jazzy grooves with bossa sunshine and AOR sophistication. It’s predominantly a collection of covers: the band take on then-contemporary hits by Tom Jobim, Boz Scaggs, Sadao Watanabe, Natalie Cole, Percy Faith and use them to conjure what is essentially the best holiday resort music ever committed to wax.

If you don’t feel completely relaxed by the time their cover of Nick DeCaro’s ‘Under The Jamaican Moon’ comes on, you probably thrive in high anxiety environments and shouldn’t be listening anyway.

Best reissues of 2017

24. Various Artists
Heed the Call! Whakarongo, Nga Tamariki!

How often have you really heard about New Zealand’s funk and boogie scene? Subtitled “17 Prime Soul, Funk and Disco Cuts from Aotearoa 1973 to 1983”, Heed the Call! Whakarongo, Nga Tamariki! aims to remedy that question and solve its mystery. This dank collection of Maori and Polynesian disco, funk and boogie jams is a legit party in a box. It’s raw, rough and ready, and despite the near-total anonymity of the artists outside of the islands, it comes correct with a slinky, stomping swagger.

This collection is a treasure trove of new groovers and if you’re a boogie fiend, it’s pretty much mandatory that you seek this out ASAP. Here’s hoping we get some follow-up volumes next year.

Best reissues of 2017

23. The Spontaneous Music Ensemble

If you’ve ever cared about improvised music, Karyōbin is mandatory listening. The Spontaneous Music Ensemble was founded by influential British drummer John Stevens in the mid-1960s as a vehicle with rotating doors that sought to divorce the concept of musical improvisation from the jazz idiom and develop a new vocabulary between players. Its membership fluctuated with every performance and recording, with Stevens as the lone constant, and has included some of the leading innovators and improvisors in British jazz and experimental music. Guitarist Derek Bailey, saxophonist Evan Parker, and bassist Dave Holland joined with seasoned trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and Stevens on 1968’s epochal Karyōbin album and the LP remains the only performance of this particular assemblage.

The meeting documented on Karyōbin is curious in that it often hints at a jazz vocabulary – this is, in effect, a jazz band – but effectively deconstructs that vocabulary in real time, instead offering what sounds like the live disintegration of tradition in regard to rhythmic anchors and solos. Where this differs from American free jazz though, is the inverse quality that the SME instill in their methodology: rather than blowing and wailing in a highly emotional firestorm, the SME drew inward while listening outward.

This is a wholly new music, its birth captured in real time on tape for posterity; in the decades since its release, Karyōbin has remained an almost sacred grail, documenting the development of new languages and dialects for players who felt tethered to the confines of jazz and classical tradition. Surprisingly, the album’s impact and quiet power hasn’t diluted one bit.

Best reissues of 2017

22. Annie Anxiety
Soul Possession

Of the many eccentric and truly fearless characters that traversed the post-punk landscape, Annie “Anxiety” Bandez stands in a class of her own. A New Yorker who made her way to Europe in punk’s early days, she assembled a rogues gallery of co-conspirators from groups like Flux Of Pink Indians, Family Fodder and African Head Charge to record her debut album Soul Possession in 1983. It’s essentially an On-U Sound production, with Adrian Sherwood and Kishi Yamamoto helping sculpt the album’s cyberpunk dub framework.

Over drum machine bursts, synth splatters and heavy droplets of nyabinghi percussion, Bendez delivers postcards from the industrial edge, her half-spoken and half-sung words blurring lines between the confrontational styles of punk and performance art. The entire album sounds as if it were recorded in J.F. Sebastian’s dilapidated Blade Runner apartment: machines march, stomp and dance around empty spaces while nyabinghi drums simulate the patter of rainfall and synths simulate sporadic flashes of light from the city outside.

Best reissues of 2017

21. Jóhann Jóhannsson
IBM 1401, A User’s Manual

Originally released in 2006, IBM 1401, A User’s Manual is Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s fourth album and remains one of the most ambitious and heart-wrenching works of orchestral hauntology, playing as a requiem for redundant technology abandoned by its users. Jóhannsson paired recordings made by his IBM technician father in 1971 with his own widescreen compositions and the result is a moving love-letter from man to machine.

Eleven years later, via its long-desired vinyl pressing, the album perhaps carries even more emotional weight, as culture has become more technologically intertwined than ever. In many ways, A User’s Manual shares aesthetic parallels with Gavin Bryars’ seminal album The Sinking Of The Titanic, tugging at the heartstrings with carefully orchestrated melodrama and the sounds of discarded nostalgia. It’s no wonder that Jóhannsson is now one of the world’s most respected soundtrack composers – he understands how to blend the saccharine and sour masterfully, and throughout this album’s duration he makes the orchestra aim skyward as his machines crumble to pieces.

Best reissues of 2017

20. Acetone
(Light In The Attic)

1992-2001 is an anthology of LA trio Acetone, a band who rubbed elbows with a number of bigger acts – from Neil Young to Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, who called Acetone her favorite band – but were just too subtle for their time. Acetone specialized in slow-motion, featherweight desert waltzes and this compilation, lovingly assembled by Light In The Attic, plays like an extended slow dance in dry heat.

Voices murmur as cymbals ripple like heatwaves rising from sun-baked highways, the guitars unraveling knots of tremolo-soaked twang where surf and blues intermingle. The band were masters of their craft and that aesthetic perfection shines hazily throughout 1992-2001. I want to believe that somewhere out in the sprawl of the American highway system, there’s a deserted roadside diner-booth jukebox loaded with these songs.

Best reissues of 2017

19. Mankuntu Quartet
Yakhal’ Inomo

Jazzman Records have done it again with this monster slice of South African township jazz, a massively important and influential classic in the country where it has never fallen out of print, yet one that has eluded all but the most dedicated collectors outside of South Africa, until now. Saxophonist Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi recorded Yakhal’ Inomo in 1968 and its heavy swing anchors a passion and tone that grooves as hard as any classic Impulse! Records or Blue Note session. Ngozi brings that unmistakable township sound throughout, and the album retains a heavy political undertone, most directly via the title, which references a bull’s scream before it is slaughtered. Choosing to remain in Cape Town during apartheid, Ngozi was forced to play behind a curtain during gigs with an all-white band due to mixed-race groups being illegal.

The heart, soul, and unrestrained emotion in Ngozi’s playing throughout Yakhal’ Inomo is palpable, all the while delivered with a cool that makes the record’s sociopolitical and cultural weight accessible to even the most casual listener. The album deserves to be heard by everyone who’s ever waxed lyrical about John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter and put needle to their grooves – Ngozi’s talent, influence, and profundity easily puts him in league with these two masters.

Best reissues of 2017

18. Knud Viktor
Ambiances / Images
(Institut for Dansk Lydarkæologi)

A highly desired double-dose of environmental musique concrète that first gained contemporary attention thanks to a low-key CDR release on the infamous Creel Pone label back in 2009, this suite by Danish ecologist Knud Viktor conjures vivid portraits of lush natural environments.

Viktor augments and softly mutates field recordings of birdsong, babbling brooks and choral chatter of insects into vividly dense harmonic clouds that evoke a natural setting via falsified recollections of it. There are no instruments or electronics of any kind found on these recordings – everything that you hear is a naturally occurring phenomenon, at times magnified to unnatural levels. Both records are succinct, near-perfect snapshots of utopia.

Best reissues of 2017

17. CultureClash
(Lost Futures)

In October 1992, DJ Akin Fernandez of Irdial Discs invited three upstart DJs from Utrecht to record a session for his “Monster Music Radio” show on London’s Kiss FM. The trio wanted to reimagine rave music through a tapestry of Eastern and Saharan harmonics and timbres and did so with a sampler, a computer, some synths and a library of sample-ready media, calling themselves The Awax Foundation.

Released here for the first time ever as CultureClash, the session is a wild ride of contrasting tones and rhythms, where house and hardcore pulses collide with Ghanaian funeral drums, Indian ragas, and Middle Eastern dervish drones. Foreshadowing Shackleton, Muslimgauze or Psychick Warriors Of Gaia, it’s precarious territory to explore but practically swerves any offensive appropriation missteps. CultureClash remains as vivid and weirdly future-ancient in 2017 as it did in 1992, and Lost Futures deserve some heavy cred for successfully getting this material out to the wider world after years of failed attempts.

Best reissues of 2017

16. Syunsuke Ono
Electro Voice Plays Sly Stone
(Jet Set/Rar)

This album is 100% fun. There’s not much known about Syunsuke Ono and aside from a cover of Shintaro Sakamoto’s ‘Disco Is’, his only widely-available recorded document is this offbeat Sly Stone covers album. Originally released in 2012 as a download-only title, it was given physical life this year for Record Store Day in Japan.

Ono tackles some of Sly’s best material, throwing his mutant vocals through talkboxes and computer speech generators and augmenting it with drum machines and synthesizers. Listening to this album illustrates what could happen if your iOS suddenly decided that it was through updating your apps and focused its attention on being a one-man funk band. All of the scrappy DIY magic of Sly’s arrangements remains, but Ono strips away all ego from the recordings until there’s nothing but soldered-together junkyard performers channeling Stone’s soul.

Best reissues of 2017

15. Hermeto Pascoal / Victor Assis Brasil
Viajando Com O Som (The Lost ’76 Vice-Versa Studio Session) / Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim
(Far Out)

Far Out Recordings brought forth two very different takes on 1970s Brazilian jazz this year – one a lost session from Hermeto Pascoal, a certified legend among legends, the other a soulful tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim by Victor Assis Brasil, a saxophone phenomenon who died too young. Viajando Com O Som was recorded in 1976 and finds Pascoal’s group in top form, exploring deeply spiritual vibes that balance heavy experimentation with kinetic rhythms; layered vocal harmonics and call-and-response sections make way for sumptuous dance grooves and dexterous flute lines.

Miles Davis once called Pascoal “the most impressive musician in the world”, and it’s clear that the creative sentiment was somewhat mutual, as Pascoal’s interpretation of Miles’ abstract electric funk makes for one hell of a magic carpet ride. On Toca Jobim, Assis Brasil’s group takes the bossa nova maestro’s over-familiar material and gives it a fresh context in which to shine; gone is the well-worn pop sweetness, replaced with a surprising edge that channels the soulfulness of Jobim’s material.

Best reissues of 2017

14. Various Artists
The Original Sound Of Mali | The Original Sound Of Burkina Faso
(Mr Bongo)

There were a number of impressive collections of vintage music by African dance bands this year, but of them all, these were my two favorites. Mr Bongo really nailed it with the first two volumes of their new Original Sound Of series, with one volume each highlighting the many variations of funk found in Mali and Burkina Faso throughout the 1970s.

Spindly distorted electric blues riffs, hard-driving bursts of polyrhythmic garage fuzz and plenty of chicken scratch funk grooves are heard throughout, with much of the music building its densely woven structures via interlocking layers of guitar, percolating Latin percussion, and bass lines that are thicker than bricks. There’s nary a duff track in either batch and one of the real joys of the Burkina set is the discovery of so many new names likely unknown to all but the most hardcore collector. Devour these collections and start memorizing names – this music is absolutely addictive.

Best reissues of 2017

13. Midori Takada
Through The Looking Glass
(Palto Flats/WRWTFWW)

Through The Looking Glass was released in 1983 and is a masterpiece of ambient minimalism. Midori Takada’s dreamlike atmospheres and delicate textures are an invocation to fabricated pastorals. The percussionist utilizes bird whistles, recorders, ocarinas, tam-tam, and layers of mallet percussion (primarily marimba) to gradually cultivate a garden of otherworldly delights; her timing is dead-on pinpoint perfect, and each instrument is given ample room to breathe through out each of these four extended pieces.

Recorded and mixed entirely solo, she eschews the rigid precision of Western minimalism and classical percussion tropes, instead drawing upon her studies of African and Asian percussive forms as a way to zero in on her own presence in the physical space of the studio during these recordings. At times reminiscent of Masahiko Togashi, another highly respected and influential Japanese percussionist who often recorded solo albums of stark, solemn beauty, Takada’s approach is a more inviting cultivation of not only the timbres of her instruments, but of the emotions they elicit as well.

Best reissues of 2017

12. Aeolus
A Retrospective
(Aloha Got Soul)

If, like us, you’ve been losing yourself in the technicolor paradise of Björk’s recent Utopia album and need a wider selection of synth-and-flute pairings in your life, these two collections of vintage ambience will be right up your alley. This retrospective of Hawaiian composer and musician Robert “Aeolus” Myers compiles choice cuts from his four long unavailable private press albums and offers an illuminating portrait of one of Honolulu’s leading new age practitioners.

Aeolus moves from epic Vangelis-style synthscapes to vaporous seances, then takes a left turn into sultry bedroom funk. It’s completely magnificent once you adjust yourself to the bright sound palette and opens the door for future explorations by Aloha Got Soul into Hawaii’s environmental/new age music scene.

Best reissues of 2017

11. Roberto Aglieri

Roberto Aglieri’s ‎Ragapadani was originally released in 1987 and explores an eclectic spectrum of sounds. Flutes and accordions are blanketed in digital synths, recordings of cicadas, and soft percussion, while Agieri’s copious usage of overdubs create textures that somehow thicken but do not stifle the music. Wordless voices ululate and whisper and at times Aglieri’s flute sounds as if it is slowing down time itself.

The original LP is bolstered here by a bonus album of contemporaneous archival pieces that share enough aesthetic ties with the album proper, yet also manage to hint at further directions that the original album left unexplored.

Best reissues of 2017

10. Claude Lombard
Claude Lombard

This 1969 eponymous LP by Belgian singer Claude Lombard is a startling document of melancholic psychedelia that foreshadows the sci-fi pop of Stereolab and early Broadcast by about 30 years. Half of the album sounds like an alternate universe where Françoise Hardy is singing the songs on Haha Sound or The Noise Made by People.

The album’s secret weapon is the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument similar in sound to the theremin and used by the likes of Olivier Messiaen and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, among others. While Lombard’s avant pop pedigree seems a bit odd next to other teenage yé-yé stars of the era, it’s worth noting that she also worked with noted composer Luciano Berio.

There’s a haunted quality to these songs and the results are simply breathtaking: ‘Sleep Well’ in particular sounds like a French-language ancestor to Broadcast’s ‘Echo’s Answer’, while the oscillations and skittering polyrhythms of ‘L’Usine’ recall contemporaneous work made by the Silver Apples. Lombard’s album is one of a kind, a perfect snapshot of a moment where vanguard meets zeitgeist, pushing the art song into pop territories while enlightening pop fans to the complexities of the avant garde. Quite simply, this is a forgotten Francophile masterpiece.

Best reissues of 2017

9. Tommy Guerrero
A Little Bit Of Somethin / Soul Food Taqueria
(Be With)

Tommy Guerrero is best known as a skateboarder but he’s spent the majority of his life also making music, moving from DIY punk into headier blends of soul and jazz. A self-taught guitarist, bassist and keyboard player, Guerrero weaves together instrumental tapestries thick with texture yet open and breathable, marrying blunted boom-bap with ambient drone and delicate guitar.

Originally released on Mo’Wax in 2000 and 2003 respectively, A Little Bit Of Somethin’ and Soul Food Taqueria were lazily shoehorned into the trip-hop canon upon release, but the truth is a little more complicated. Both albums touch upon dusty blues, Latin soul and the same kind of DIY magic originally mastered by the likes of Sly Stone and Shuggie Otis.

Guerrero often describes his own music as being all about mood, and that’s clear on both of these albums. Little Bit is almost a jazz guitar interpretation of a hip-hop beat tape – sketchy, deep, groovy and raggedly charming. Soul Food Taqueria meanwhile ups the ante, showcasing cleaner production and a more nuanced overarching theme. These albums are California all the way, even in their overcast melancholy; in fact Guerrero may even be the first modern artist to really nail a “San Fransisco” sound that accurately represents the city’s unique landscape.

Best reissues of 2017

8. Various Artists
Outro Tempo: Electronic + Contemporary Music from Brasil 1978-92
(Music From Memory)

It was a fantastic year for Brazilian reissues and Music From Memory’s outstanding anthology of electronic avant-folk stood high above the rest. Outro Tempo collects a staggering amount of music, setting its sights on mutated folk forms augmented by heavily electronic arrangements. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern across the set is mesmerizing, illustrating a secret history of contemporary Brazil far removed from popular sounds, flirting with post-punk, new age and cosmic electro.

Primitive drum machines and icy pads are used alongside traditional instruments like berimbaus, alfaias, jaw harps and repiniques to give the earthen sounds of the Amazon an almost day-glo saturation. The songs have more in common with the likes of Brigitte Fontaine, Dead Can Dance or Antonio Zepeda than they do your Tom Jobims or Joao Donatos, and for a collection that covers such a broad expanse of time, Outro Tempo‘s striking diversity is an advantage rather than a hindrance. This is visionary music, offering a secret history of Brazil’s shift from a dictatorship into democracy and its affects on the avant garde.

Best reissues of 2017

7. Tradition
Captain Ganja + The Space Patrol
(Bokeh Versions)

Captain Ganja + The Space Patrol, originally released in 1980 on a small private label, was an attempt by UK group Tradition to step away from dub’s well-worn structures into more cosmic and electronic territory. The group utilized an early Roland sampler to add an array of textures to their jazzy rhythms, dropping the space age curlicues of exotica records, babies crying, birdsong, whooping playground battle chants, and splashes of water into their tracks.

Tradition also go “full sci-fi”, with so much Radiophonic tomfoolery that you’d almost expect a Dalek to start toasting like a soundsystem DJ at any moment. Add to this a robust horn section, and altogether we’ve got a legit dub-soul classic that nods to its influences but wholly separates itself from them.

Best Reissues of 2017

6. Alice Coltrane
World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
(Luaka Bop)

Alice Coltrane’s four albums of devotional ashram music have long cultivated a near mythic status among jazz and new age enthusiasts. They were manufactured in small quantities on cassette for distribution to the worshippers at her ashram (it’s alleged that only a scant few hundred copies of each of the four albums exist) and Luaka Bop has compiled highlights on the first of a series of vintage spiritual music anthologies.

These truly entrancing recordings manage to fuse two differing forms of worship music – the Hindu devotional and the Negro spiritual – into something wholly new and truly celestial. Yet these recordings are rooted in earthen femininity and Coltrane’s background, which led her from classical training and a Baptist upbringing to the pinnacle of America’s jazz avant garde. Her voice, relatively unheard until the distribution of these tapes, is a veritable elemental force; in it one hears a life of triumph, pain, loss, growth, and unending evolution. Coltrane truly sought enlightenment not only for herself, but for the strangers who joined her ashram and soon became a family.

The near universal acclaim for this compilation is no fluke. Regardless of belief in matters of the soul or faith, even the most secular of listeners can vibe with Coltrane’s futuristic Oberheim synth seances, which beam skyward like bright orange lasers into the infinity.

Best reissues of 2017

5. Steve Hiett
Down On The Road By The Beach
(Sony Japan)

Steve Hiett is a British photographer who was essentially the aesthetic forefather of not only contemporary fashion photography, but the world’s Instagram-filtered POV. His images are warm, over-saturated, vibrantly hued snapshots of casual moments made enigmatically significant; it’s fitting, then, that his lone album – cut in 1983 at studios in Tokyo, Paris, and NYC with a small handful of top session heads – is equally enigmatic and vibrant.

Down On The Road By The Beach is in many ways a portrait of an alternate reality in which The Durutti Column’s Vini Reilly grows up on American beaches rather than Manchester’s industrial decline. Originally the guitarist for UK psych-pop group The Pyramid, Hiett then played briefly with The Pretty Things before shifting his focus to photography. He eventually found his way to Tokyo’s Shinanomachi Studios to record this album with the assistance of Moonriders keyboardist/city pop session legend Toru Okada and Elliott Randall, a session guitarist and early member of Steely Dan perhaps best known for the iconic solos on ‘Reelin’ In The Years’.

The resulting sessions led to one of the single most beautiful, evocative, and eerie albums ever to cross the threshold of the Endless Summer‘s final sunset. A predominantly instrumental affair, everything plays out in slow motion here; Hiett’s surfy blues licks nod at his rocker past while drifting ever so quietly toward hazy, ambient futures.

Best reissues of 2017

4. Metro Area
Metro Area

In honor of Metro Area‘s 15th anniversary, Morgan Geist and Darshan Jesrani have reissued an expanded “definitive” edition of their eponymous masterpiece on triple vinyl, remastered from the original tapes and including all tracks from all editions and past formats of the album. The duo kicked off the project after becoming dissatisfied with the house music of the era and the album opened the doors to a new revival of disco and post-punk dance music that ran concurrent with DFA’s rise to prominence.

While much of the punk-funk-disco-dub magic of that sordid era has faded, Metro Area remains quite a timeless classic, hinting at the past while winking at the future, keeping itself on beat and avoiding timestamped aesthetic red flags. In short: this album still bangs.


3. Hiroshi Yoshimura
Pier + Loft / Music For Nine Post Cards
(17853 Records / Empire Of Signs)

One of the year’s most delightful developments was the wider world’s re-discovery of Japanese environmental composer and ambient music pioneer Hiroshi Yoshimura. Yoshimura’s work was commissioned for everything from prefab houses to perfume promotions and sound design for public transportation, but regardless of the intended purpose, his compositions all shared a particular quality. There’s often a generous usage of negative or open space in his arrangements – not necessarily silence, but rather a conscious, concentrated series of pauses and breaths taken. His albums can quietly season the ambiance of a room when played at low volumes, or can submerge the listener in baths of tranquility when listened to more attentively.

Pier + Loft was the one album of Yoshimura’s that personally escaped me over the years, originally released as a cassette in an impossibly small run. It’s more assertive than nearly all of his subsequent recordings, and that’s not a bad thing; for those familiar with his work it’s a lovely change, while neophytes can enjoy the stark contrast between Pier‘s more dexterous and percussive approach (there’s even a legit drum machine on one cut!) and the less-is-more aesthetic established on Nine Post Cards. Recorded with just a lone synth and a Fender Rhodes, Nine Post Cards demonstrates the crystalline essence of Yoshimura’s brilliance; it’s an album that can be played at any time of day, in nearly any room or setting, and will effectively quiet the atmosphere surrounding it.

Best reissues of 2017

2. Jackie Shane
Any Other Way
(Numero Group)

Numero Group busts out the big guns with this essential anthology of infamous Toronto soul firestorm and transgender pioneer Jackie Shane. Any Other Way collects the six singles she released for assorted labels throughout the 1960s, packaging them with a blistering live set from 1967 at Toronto’s Sapphire Tavern that demonstrates everything that made her a beloved figure among local soul aficionados.

Her status as an African-American trans woman in the 1960s entertainment industry was groundbreaking, while her rich, confident voice and commanding stage presence brought forth plenty of offers. She was invited to perform on Ed Sullivan (she refused when the show asked her to perform without makeup), was courted by Motown and Atlantic (she turned them down when she realized how much of her money they wanted to keep) and she was even asked to join Parliament by George Clinton (guitarist Garry Shider’s onstage diaper made her think otherwise). She toured with Etta James, but wider success eluded her as she chose to back away from the spotlight into a more reclusive private existence.

Numero Group spent years establishing contact with Shane and to the label’s credit, it’s worth noting that they in no way trivialize or exploit Shane’s life or sexuality over the course of this collection. Any Other Way stands tall and triumphant as one of Numero’s defining releases and is absolutely essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in vintage soul. To quote fellow Toronto soul singer Eric Mercury: “She was brash. She was the center of attention. She was authentic; she was for real and she was living her life out loud.”

Best reissues of 2017

1. Zazou / Bikaye / CY1
Noir Et Blanc
(Crammed Discs)

A 1983 masterpiece of Afro-pean rhythmic and technological fusion, Noir Et Blanc documents a chance meeting between French-Algerian sonic alchemist Hector Zazou, Congolese singer Bony Bikaye, and French mad scientists and modular synthesists Claude Micheli and Guillaume Loizillon, known here as CY1.

Zazou serves as director, never actually performing a note, but ensuring maximum efficiency and vibrancy in the arrangements. CY1 provide the pulse, their machines buzzing and humming in polyrhythmic configurations that don’t attempt to mimic the popular rhythms of Africa so much as offer new synthetic alternatives that illustrate the true sophistication of then-contemporaneous African dance musics. Marc Hollander, Vincent Kenis, and Chris Joris of Aksak Maboul provide additional guitar, woodwind, and percussion textures, while Fred Frith’s violin tenderly moans among the sputtering circuitry. And then there’s Biyake – a voice so versatile, so rich and tender one moment, so feral and prickly the next, playing both soloist and choir (at times simultaneously). Bikaye is the true heart and soul of this album, a bold artist eager to look into the future by channeling the past.

What’s most astonishing about Noir Et Blanc is the way that it never attempts to subvert the traditions of African music to achieve its goals. On the contrary, the musicians involved are doing the exact inverse – paying tribute to the beauty of the diaspora by using their modern tools to perform the music they love so dearly. This album is an aesthetic forefather to Crammed Discs’ Congotronics releases, a series of albums and collections meant to shine greater light on struggling musicians in the Congo and give them a platform to amplify their own voices beyond the reaches of their hot-wired and distorted PAs. But while the Congotronics records remain rooted in the earth, Noir Et Blanc remains a beguiling celestial dispatch that still sounds like the future.

Mikey IQ Jones is a freelance music writer. Find him on Twitter.

Read next: The 20 best Bandcamp releases of 2017



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