12.13.2008

Top 10 Reissues of 2008

It seems that more often than not I am listening to music in digital form now. That's not always how I'd prefer it to be. That's just how it is. I have a 60g iPod that leaves me constantly at odds with myself about what to load it up with and what there just isn't space for. What I typically do is fill it up with all of the albums newly added to my collection, a smattering of all-time favorites (the kind of LPs that I must listen to all the way through, where no song is better or worse than the one before or after), and then a bunch of hits collections or self-made compilations of tracks from all of my favorite bands. This way I can explore the new stuff, get lost in my favorites, and indulge in the best from the rest with a few movements of the thumb.

The beauty of reissues in this era is that they provide the impetus for reacquainting oneself with albums that otherwise might not get the amount of loving spins that they still deserve. This isn't to say that I haven't listened to nearly all of the albums listed below in their entirety sometime in the last few years, and prior to the reissues. It's just to say that the new release of these records puts them back at the top of the pile, so to speak.

One note, many of the bands listed below gave the reissue treatment to more than one worthy album this year. In the interest of diversity and not giving multiple slots to Mission of Burma, The Replacements, New Order, and Jesus & Mary Chain (to name a few), I have included just my favorite selection from each. Also, since I consider all of these records to be timeless classics, I chose not to rank them. So, without further ado:

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Jesus & Mary Chain - Psychocandy
Mix one part Beach Boys pop song structure, one part Velvet Underground "Sister Ray" fuzz and feedback, and one part Phil Spector Wall-of-Sound production value and the result will be Psychocandy. These days this is a musical recipe that is not all that unfamiliar. But nobody, before or since, threw all of these elements into the pot, stirred them up, and came out with something that sounded this great or this original. Psychocandy is like capturing the sound of 60's pop being played on the side of the road as a fifteen car pile-up takes place just a few feet away, or, like the sight of a few early blooms peaking through an early-Spring snowfall.
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Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
I don't know how to write about jazz. I've never really done it before. I do know that this album is perfect. I don't mean technically perfect. I mean, it could be technically perfect, but I don't know that. I can't tell you about modal structures, chord changes, or any of that other stuff. What I can tell you is that this album is ideal listening for rainy days. It makes the perfect soundtrack for a walk on a sunny afternoon. It's great to fall asleep to. It's amazing if you put on headphones and crank up the volume. It cheers you up. It makes you cry. It's a smokey basement bar. It's a grand theater. It's about being in love. It's about not knowing what love is. This album is perfect because it can and will be anything to anybody at anytime.
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Mission of Burma - Signals, Calls, and Marches
"That's When I Reach For My Revolver," "Academy Fight Song," "Max Ernst," "This Is Not A Photograph." Most bands would kill to write four songs of this lofty caliber during the course of a career. Boston's Mission of Burma has them all right here on one release (comprised of their early singles and the Signals, Calls, and Marches EP). Call them art rock, or punk rock, or indie rock. Call them whatever you want but the bottom line is that these guys make flat out passionate, uncompromising, challenging, but unpretentious rock-and-roll. And a perfect place to start to recognize their genius is right here on this raw, heartfelt juggernaut of an album.
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Replacements
- Let It Be
It's hard to believe that an album boasting song titles like "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and "Gary's Got A Boner" also happens to be an inarguable classic. But when it also includes "I Will Dare," "Androgynous," and "Unsatisfied" there can be no debate. This is the album where we see the 'Mats poised for adulthood, but still boys at heart. They're mature enough to have grown-up feelings and concerns, yet childish enough to laugh at anatomical jokes. As on prior releases, they play sloppy, carefree blue-collar punk, but for the first time they prove that they can also do introspective ballads and love songs as well. These Twin Cities natives would go on to make more polished records but never another that so fully bore their souls or represented the essence of who they were and where they came from.
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Chameleons
- Script Of the Bridge
How many lazy rock critics did you hear drop a Joy Division reference in a review of Interpol's Turn On the Bright Lights? Just about every single one. No doubt, Paul Banks' vocals do bare similarities to those of Ian Curtis. But if you want to hear where Interpol's sound really comes from, look no further than Script Of the Bridge. This 25-year old majestically produced masterpiece is twelve songs worth of icy, precise guitar interplay, reverb, and tasteful synths. And there isn't a sub par moment to be found.
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Graham Nash
- Songs For Beginners
If you only listen to the music, this LP is a relaxing, sun-drenched, afternoon walk in the park. If you listen to the lyrics it is an introspective journey through the thoughts of a man grappling with big issues, both internal and external. The internal, dealing with Nash's recent break-up with Joni Mitchell. The external, in regard to the social turmoil caused by an unpopular war that was splitting the States down the middle. The former is always relevant in pop music. The latter, especially on a track like "Military Madness," is especially poignant right now because it could have been written yesterday. Mostly absent here, mercifully if you ask me, are the lyrical and musical hippie cliches that, in my opinion, sometimes lessened the impact of Crosby, Stills, and Nash's catalog. I know that is probably going to be a contentious point of view. But, hopefully we can all agree that Songs For Beginners is a classic worthy of our praise.
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Pere Ubu
- Dub Housing
Cleveland's Pere Ubu is, without a doubt, the most challenging band to grace this list. Dub Housing, the most challenging album. But, for every casual listener who gave up a few songs in, there are others who allowed themselves to fully absorb this album and to eventually come to terms with its oddball genius. This is music that sometimes feels as if it could only have come from a post-industrial city such as Cleveland. There are still shades of Ubu's Rocket From the Tombs garage-rock roots on this album, but they are buried in dissonance and placed side by side with bleak soundscapes that evoke an urban wasteland. On top of all of this are David Thomas' spastic, yelping, hiccuping, barely decipherable vocals. If that description doesn't make you the slightest bit curious I'd recommend just steering clear of this one. Otherwise, press play, dive in with an open mind and open ears, and wait for the brilliance of Dub Housing to reveal itself to you.
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Johnny Cash
- At Folsom Prison
If you want to know why Johnny Cash holds such appeal for punk rockers, why he was the country artist who was able to escape the country stigma, why his choice of dress is not the only reason he's known as The Man In Black, you need only give At Folsom Prison a listen. During the course of this record Cash morphs from an artist brought into Folsom to entertain, to just one of the guys. He speaks for the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the marginalized. And he does so convincingly. With wit. With bite. With empathy. With attitude. And without a hint of insincerity.
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R.E.M.
- Murmur
Murmur, R.E.M.'s first full-length, is the sound of a band too on-the-move to worry about the details. You almost get the feeling that they wanted to get these songs recorded as fast as possible, lest they forget how to play them. The vocals are borderline unintelligible. The muddy production sometimes gives one the feel that they are listening to the album through busted speakers. But the urgency, the immediacy, and the poignancy of the tunes on display is obvious. This is often viewed as the album that launched "college rock." It's an amalgamation of postpunk, folk rock, and jangle pop that is neither inaccessible, nor status quo. Its varying influences foreshadow the great career that these Athens, Ga. boys had ahead of them and hints at the touchstones of the playlists of hundreds of campus radio stations in the 1980's. And if you really dig in, you will find some of their most well-crafted songs and some of the best lyrics that Micheal Stipe would ever pen.
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New Order - Movement
Rock critics tend to view this, the first New Order LP, as merely a transitional album between the more spare, industrial sounds of Joy Division and the later more danceable New Order albums. And it is. And that, the same reason that they underrate it in favor of later releases, is the reason it is my favorite. This album is dark, emotional, and ruminative. It finds a band coping with the loss of a friend and a partner, searching for a new sound, a new voice, a new direction, but not entirely turning their backs on the past. It is the resulting friction, of the point where past and future butt heads in the present, that make this album so powerful.
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2 comments:

  1. My reissue of the year would be Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, but all of the ones you've listed are totally worthy picks.

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  2. Mike-

    I haven't checked that one out yet. While I respect The Beach Boys, I've never shared the reverence for them that many fans of pop music have. But, I respect your opinion, so I'll have to give it a spin!

    ReplyDelete