Is that the time already? You ask.
Countdown: Comps and Re-issues
I was wondering the same too, as it happens. 2015 has been and gone in a flash, and once again, pressures elsewhere have meant I’ve not written about as much as I might have liked. I’ve bought, and listened to, an awful lot of music, I’ve attended more gigs than ever this year. So as ever this year’s round-ups are a righting of the “wrong” of a comparative lack of posting over the last twelve months.
This is, of course, the beginning of the round-up, and will continue over the next few Tuesdays with one post per week. First up? The ever-increasing number of compilations and re-issues. There were even more than this, but I’m only going to mention ten.
On we go.
For the second year running, Underworld released a sumptuous box set to reflect on past glories. Last year’s twentieth anniversary set for dubnobasswithmyheadman has now been followed with a similar set for Second Toughest In The Infants, and this one is just as good. It follows the same format – original album, rarities, remixes and other odds and ends, and is a useful reminder that Second Toughest… was a massive step away from what came before, experimenting with breakbeats (to astonishing effect in the charge of Pearl’s Girl, and also in the opening sixteen-minute epic of Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love) and even blues (Stagger, Blueski) as well as pounding, pounding techno (Rowla). Not only that, but the remaster of this is astounding, being ultra clean and giving the album a clarity that it never had before. The real surprises, though, come with the other material – there are some great tracks in the B-Sides, rarities and remixes, but the gem is the fourth CD – to all intents and purposes a seven-track demonstration of how Born Slippy evolved into the monster it became, and it’s amazing to realise that the synth hook that is so important to the sound of the track took some time to be introduced. When you get to the full, twelve-minute NUXX version that is the final track in the box, though, the rush when that beat finally rips out of the speakers is still something else, even after all those years.
Total Fucking War
It’s taken a long, long time, but Judda have finally had their material released properly, thanks to a lot of work from Armalyte Industries. A band that were active (and had a seriously combustible, destructive reputation, which Marc Heal wrote about amusingly a few years back) around the same time as Cubanate in the early nineties, somehow none of their scorching industrial metal ever made it to an album – and I, like many others, likely, only vaguely remember the details of the time (I was only there at the end, once I was preparing for life at Uni, and was actually at Uni in London). This compilation pulls together original songs and a few remixes, and is frankly worth it alone for the rowdy, groovy hit of Bark that opens it – but stick with it and it becomes clear that the band not getting proper recognition at the time was an utter travesty. But then, with their reputation, it’s also possible to say that either a) they didn’t actually care for success or b) they were far too “dangerous” for record labels to ever touch. Time is a great healer, mind, and listening to this detached from the legend, they really did have some outstanding material.
It does seem that there is a renewed interest in Coil again of late, with a number of releases in the past year or so, all of which have been of note in some way – including the full, remastered versions of their stellar remix work with Nine Inch Nails back in the early nineties, a couple of live albums that I really should pick up, and now this. An album never properly released in the early nineties, somehow it has finally been pulled together as it was intended, and it sounds glorious. Much more electronic – or, industrial, if you will, than the Coil I’m more familiar with, beats and rhythms fire at you from all over (the near-breakbeats of the ethereal Heaven’s Blade a shining highlight), with John Balance’s vocals only occasionally brought to the fore. But the sounds, the atmospheres created, are the most important thing as ever with Coil’s work – as this casual listener sees it, anyway. It’s an interesting “what might have been” to consider whether Coil’s trajectory might have been different had this got a full release in 1992 or so, that’s for sure.
For once, a twentieth anniversary release for an album that really was something. The origins of the band are well told – and bizarrely I was writing about the album just before the tour and album re-issue got announced, but it is still amazing to think that a singer from an obscure Scottish band and three producers managed to create an alt-rock-pop-industrial album (drawing on relatively obscure shoegaze in particular) and shift four million copies of it. This release has been remastered with amazing results (there is all kinds of things going on deep in the mix that I’ve never noticed before), and the second CD brings together all of the B-sides that were just as essential in the first place, but bloody hard to find nowadays (I’d long since lost my CD singles – I had the lot back in the day). The only minus point? They used the sodding Nellie Hooper version of #1 Crush, not the proper version.
I missed this when it first appeared, so thanks to Artoffact for re-issuing what is actually a quite brilliant album. Previously members of “orchestral goth” band Religious to Damn, this newer project takes in some interesting influences. Vocalist Zohra Atash is the child of Afghan refugees to the US, her band partner Joshua Strawn from the mid-west, and the music here is a clash of styles that works. Taking distinct tribal and mid-Asian sounds, industrial/gothic electronics, and Atash’s soaring, dramatic vocals, they have a wonderful, unique sound and a great line in hooks too. Well worth picking up.
Artoffact have also been releasing a large proportion of the FLA back-catalogue on vinyl over the past couple of years (a project that can’t have been easy with the variety of labels FLA have been on over the past couple of decades) – and the most impressive of the re-issues has been the awesome Hard Wired Box Set – that takes in Hard Wired, the live album Live Wired (from the legendary FLA tour of 1996 to support Hard Wired) and the Circuitry single too, over six LPs. The quality of the albums themselves has never been in doubt – Live Wired is one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard, for a start (one of those releases that resulted in a few definitive versions of the band’s songs – Vigilante and Bio-Mechanic in particular), while Hard Wired is an album of surprising depth, with perhaps the band’s best-ever production and Fulber’s soundscapes are astounding. The thing is, almost any FLA fan will already have all of these releases, but as a collectible item, this was an essential purchase for a longtime fan like me.
25 Years of HANDS
That an independent label in a niche genre such as this has survived 25 years is absolutely a celebration, and this massive compilation does the label justice in a clever way. Rather than just “classic” songs, 48 of the label’s roster recorded or provided new material, and the result is an exceptional and varied compilation. There is far more here than just scorched-earth industrial noise (although there is an awful lot of it!), elsewhere there is ambient electronics, drum’n’bass, and much more besides, and is worth the time exploring the compilation – which at well beyond four hours in length, is quite a time.
On the “other” big noise label, Ant-Zen released a fascinating retrospective of one of their most unusual acts – as Klangstabil marked twenty years, this two-CD compilation brought together their best material. What might normally be termed a cop-out – having multiple versions of the same songs featuring – here makes perfect sense, as Klangstabil’s sound has so much variety that two versions of Math + Emotion, for example, was absolutely essential to understanding the differing styles that the act have been willing to explore. Also unusually for an Ant-Zen act, lyrics are a massive part of what they do, and the words here are positive thoughts, ones where personal advancement is encouraged, creation not destruction. Here’s to the future.
Cold Waves IV Compilation
A second visit was made to Chicago in September, to see friends again and to make it to Cold Waves IV. Once again the festival had an accompanying sampler CD that allowed at least a taste of each band playing, and it was made all the more essential to pick up by having a few new tracks and exclusive remixes – not least the first new Acumen Nation track in some years, and another new Human Traffic track that has only helped (along with their show there) to push their profile higher. Basically, if you like industrial music, Chicago-style, this compilation should be an automatic purchase.
Mogwai, a band who rarely have looked too far backwards aside from the odd re-issue, chose to celebrate their twentieth year of existence as a band by curating a series of (exceptional) gigs at the Roundhouse, and then releasing a vast compilation later in the year. This vast compilation was what you might call a “best of” – which means as usual what is and what isn’t included is immediately contentious – but it covers basically every release by the band in some way, and interestingly only features Mogwai Fear Satan from Young Team (but then, that did get a full re-master a few years back). But what it does do is give an idea of how much the band have changed and evolved over the years. They’ve dabbled in electronics, vocals, metal, soundtrack work, and just dubbing them “post-rock” does them a disservice. And then there’s My Father My King at the end. The sonic equivalent of watching a volcano (while standing at the edge of the caldera) on the verge of erupting for twenty minutes, you emerge feeling somewhat chastened. There’s a beauty there, but Mogwai don’t half use ugly, noisy methods to reach them sometimes.