Best Reissues/Compilations of 2007
Depeche Mode - "Construction Time Again" / "Black Celebration" Neither album, from 1983 and 1986 respectively, is on the same level as the band's classics, "Music for the Masses" or "Violator." But hearing the synth-pop masters approach those twin peaks is more fun these days than listening to "Enjoy the Silence" or "Never Let Me Down Again" for the 10,000th time. (Actually, scratch that - listening to "Never Let Me Down Again" for the 10,000th time is still as good as it gets.) Songs like "Everything Counts" and "But Not Tonight" showcase a softer edge to the pounding dance-floor anthems of those later albums but remain every bit as catchy.
Elliott Smith - "New Moon" There are plenty of great moments on Elliott Smith's final three albums but his most affecting songs were the simple, largely unaccompanied acoustic guitar laments on 1995's "Elliott Smith" and 1997's "Either/Or." This collection of "lost" recordings comes from that era but doesn't feel like your usual thrown-together posthumous album. In fact, it's more coherent than "From a Basement on a Hill," the singer-songwriter's final album, which was pieced together after his (apparent) 2004 suicide. These songs are teeming with anger, sadness and frustration but Smith's delicate voice and exquisite, consistent tunefulness make for a touching, if not exactly uplifting, listening experience.
J Dilla - "Ruff Draft" In a way this double-disc reissue is sort of self-defeating. Hip-hop is rarely a "less is more" genre but this 2003 EP by the late producer/rapper was 19 minutes of all-killer, no-filler and proved that Jay Dee wasn't just "your favorite producer's favorite producer." On "Reckless Driving and "Crushin' (Yeeeeaah!)" he proves to be an MC with some serious bite, as capable of serving up hard bangers as jazzy head-nodders. The instrumental versions on the extra disc won't be of much use to most, but it's simply good to have this hard-to-find gem back in print.
Nico - "The Frozen Borderline: 1968-1970" After contributing haunting vocals to the Velvet Underground's classic 1967 debut and delivering an album of low-key chamber-pop (featuring tunes written by former lovers Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and Jackson Browne) that same year, the German chanteuse went in her own weird direction for two follow-ups, "The Marble Index" and "Desertshore," presented together here along with two discs of b-sides. These albums are filled with Nico originals that are centered upon her mysterious, gothic lyrics, equally gloomy voice and avant-garde, harmonium-heavy compositions. It makes early Velvets sound positively conventional by comparison and remains one of the most unique sounds set to tape over the past few decades.
Pylon - "Gyrate +" Pylon couldn't piggyback on the success of fellow Athens bands R.E.M. and B-52s and it's not all that surprising considering their sound is much harsher. Unlike the organic American rock or infectious new wave groove of their neighbors, there was something menacing about Pylon, particularly in the vocals of Vanessa Briscoe Hay. Her growl was an ideal match for the band's militaristic, spiky brand of post-punk, which was perfected on 1980's "Gyrate," presented here with a couple of extras. Fans of fellow uncompromising rockers the Raincoats, the Slits and the Vaselines would be wise to check this one out.
Traveling Wilburys - "Traveling Wilburys" Rock Rule #139 is "Be Wary of the Supergroup," but every once in a while there's an exception. It helps when the supergroup consists of four indisputable legends - George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison (and, um, Jeff Lynne, no slouch, especially behind the boards) - and they bring out the best in each other. This package collects both of the band's albums and adds a few b-sides and a charming behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of the first album. The camaraderie and playfulness evident in the documentary shines through in the music, particularly on "Volume 1." "End of the Line" and "Handle With Care" are rollicking front-porch singalongs and even the glossy production can't detract from the distinctly personal touch of these songs.
Various Artists - "Eccentric Soul: The Prix Label" Half this list could be reissues from the Numero Group - "The ABCs of Kid Soul: Home Schooled," "Eccentric Soul: Twilight's Lunar Rotation," "Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay" and "Eccentric Soul: The Outskirts of Deep City" all border on "must-have" status - who do a consistently amazing job unearthing funky old 45s from the '60s and '70s. All of these cuts come from a tiny soul label out of Columbus, Ohio and each song is a gem in its own right, whether it's the bouncy soul-pop of Joe King's "Speak On Up" or the proto-slow-jam "Our Love Used to Be" by Royal Esquires.
Various Artists - "Florida Funk: 1968-1975" More fantastic, forgotten funkiness, this time with a predictably swampier feel. Compared to the above compilations, the selections presented here are rougher around the edges and heavier on the low end. There's no shortage of wah pedal, driving rhythms, or even some fuzzed-out bass on the Mighty Dogcatchers' "It's Gonna Be a Mess" which recalls Booker T & the MGs at their rawest. The psychedelic experiments of Sly Stone and Funkadelic, not the classic Stax sound, serve as the biggest influences on the artists on this collection, though.
Wingtip Sloat - "Add This to Rhetoric" Before he was a star Washington Post freelancer Patrick Foster was a member of this Virginia band that played weird, fractured, shambolic indie rock, back when the "indie" actually meant something. The majority of these 30 songs originally appeared on early '90s 7-inch singles with limited press runs; the band's ambition wasn't to become stars, but merely to take those Wire and Sebadoh influences and make something noisy and catchy out of them. And at that they succeeded, over and over and over again.
Young Marble Giants - "Colossal Youth" This is one of those albums that has already been reissued a handful of times, but if this latest release means a new generation is exposed to YMG's icy, minimalist art-punk, so be it. The U.K. trio's songs are all tension and no release, with Stuart Moxham's punchy rhythm guitar complementing Alison Statton's detached vocals and bitter, hopeless lyrics. ("Pain is in me every day / When you went it came to stay / Come and be a cure for me / Make the tears come out of me" from "Brand-New-Life.") The extras on this 3 CD set - some demos, rehearsal recordings and BBC sessions - are for die-hards only, but the first disc should be a part of any serious rock collection.
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