Countdown: Compilations and Re-issues
Amid the wreckage of politics and social failure, I’m going to try and stick to my usual round-up of the music of the year. As usual, it is going to follow over the next four weeks, each post on a Tuesday.
As I post this, I’m preparing to leave New York to Washington D.C., as part of our three-week honeymoon – so needless to say this was prepared in advance over the past few weeks. This week is a look at the best compilations and re-issues of 2016, and perhaps there were a few less than there have been in recent years – or, maybe, I just didn’t pick up as many.
I’m concentrating on the good, mind, and to paraphrase a certain classic horror film, I have such delights to show you.
A great pair of compilations were released by Armalyte Industries at the end of the summer, which rather than just being a showcase for their own artists, spread the net far wider and also covered like-minded artists from across the world. This included old hands, new names, and as a general rule, was very good indeed. It also featured a number of exclusive tracks along the way, from what I can tell, too, with new/unreleased tracks from the likes of Khaidian, Je$us Loves Amerika, Marc Heal, Cocksure and many more (not to mention Kanga’s excellent cover of Metal), as well as a few interesting new discoveries, bands I’d not come across before – and I’ll be looking out for more of in future. Overall, a fascinating, wide-reaching compilation pairing that are both well worth getting.
Cold Waves V Compilations
Picking up the CD compilation that is released at Cold Waves festival in Chicago each year has become part of the routine, simply because each one has been so damned good. This year was no exception, with a whole host of exclusive remixes and new tracks (and with this compilation not being available digitially, pretty much everything here can only be heard by getting the CD). The line-up for this year’s festival was possibly the strongest yet, and the CD reflects this, with not a single bad track here (and, at last, a version of Cubanate’s latest recorded track that actually does it justice – the Studer Remix of We Are Crowd).
One of the interesting things about this year – for me at least – has been a few less re-issues to pick up, although I’m fairly sure that the number overall has not decreased. Two, though, that I wasn’t going to miss out on were the lavish re-issues of The Verve’s first two albums.
Hats off to Virgin Records (the successor to the long-closed Hut Records), then, for doing The Verve justice. The album has been re-issued in style – a full remaster of the album, a whole host of B-sides, early material, live tracks (and a bit annoyingly most of compilation No Come Down), all in a box with postcards and a few other odds and ends. Some of it is material I’ve never heard in full – the really early tracks have been out of print and unavailable for years. As a limited release – and not cheap, at £40 – this is, though, very much one for committed fans.
The same is the case for follow-up A Northern Soul. An even more amazing-looking box then Storm In Heaven – in shimmering silver – it follows a similar format by having a gorgeously re-mastered album, and a whole host of additional material. This time it is B-sides and sessions/demos, the most interesting being a couple of early sketches of songs that would become part of the hugely successful Urban Hymns – that the band split and then reformed for.
Coming back to the album – particularly with the staggering quality of the remaster – is eye-opening. The psychedelic, hard-edged rock here absolutely glows out of the speakers, with an extraordinary depth to the mix, and the most impressive moment remains the deliberately chaotic Brainstorm Interlude, a song where everything is multi-tracked and phased, layer upon layer of elements, and the clarity is amazing. If all you’ve ever heard of The Verve were the hits, both of these albums are better than that – and well worth giving them a listen.
The legendary doom metal band are marking their 25th anniversary this year – and judging on the show of theirs I saw earlier in the year, they are still in fine form. For a band with an extensive, deep back-catalogue like theirs, too, this is a fitting compilation.
Three CDs, twenty-nine songs, and it covers all the way from early demos to their latest album Feel The Misery from last year, and even includes a handful of remixes and covers (mystifyingly omitting their exceptional cover of Swans’ Failure, mind) – and in general, this is about as good an introduction to the band and their unique style of romantic doom as it will ever get.
Close To The Noise Floor
An enthralling compilation, this – kinda telling the story of early British electronic music over the period where it really found it’s feet, from 1975-84. This was the time where synthesisers actually became (relatively) affordable, and thus experimentation and creation could really begin, and this four CD compilation does a great job of digging into what was going on. There are familiar artists, familiar songs, and some stuff I would never, ever have come across otherwise. There is brilliant pop music, there is comic re-workings of popular songs, there is deliberately atonal noise. The only possible problem for me is that Mute – the most forward-looking, and massively influential, British electronic label of the time – is almost entirely missing, which means we don’t have the full story. But taken as it is, if you’re into electronic music, this compilation really is an essential purchase.
It’s place in the pantheon of “top EBM/industrial albums ever” hardly in doubt, this album (from 1984!) got a lavish re-issue to mark the band’s 35th anniversary this year – along with another release of Geography and a re-appraisal of PULSE, too, the latter of which actually helped to shed new light and make me reconsider my original thoughts on it (LINK).
But anyway, No Comment. Released here in an impressive box, with the Politics of Pressure EP tacked on, a live CD, various new and old remixes and rarities, and some smart postcards and odds-and-ends. But the album is what we’re here for, and the remaster makes the album kick hard. Not a particularly long album in the first place, of course, it is dominated by the glowering, military themes of Commando Mix in particular (long a live favourite), but it is amazing how well this album still holds up. It is made an essential purchase, though, by the first remastered versions of Don’t Crash and Funkadafi, two classics by the band that have long been difficult to obtain, and they sound awesome.
Electronic Saviors 4: Retaliation
Once again, Jim Semonik has done a sterling job in creating another sprawling industrial compilation. While perhaps not intended to be, it does an impressive job of giving an overview of a good proportion of the goth/industrial scene (and it’s wider offshoots) in 2016, and that sheer breadth of styles across the four CDs (or six, if you got the premium edition like me) means that this has a vast appeal – pretty much, there will be something here for anyone with an interest in the scene.
In addition, the series gives a great deal to charity (now past $50,000, at last count, apparently) and so simply by buying it, you are doing something good. As far as I’m concerned – and as I’ve mentioned before – this series is now the best set of Industrial compilations ever released, and here’s hoping Jim continues with another.
Released in December last year, just after the 2015 list was done, so it counts here (remember, I usually cover December-November each year). And anyway, how was I going to miss out my favourite Swans album of all?
Somehow, this pair of albums (they were recorded in the same sessions, have album artwork by the same person, and very much have a similar feel) never got properly re-released beforehand, as most of the band’s backcatalogue long since did. Yeah, so Various Failures covers most of it, but fucks with the order and so loses some of the power.
Particularly in the case of White Light…. A twelve-song tour de force of Gira’s (and to a lesser extent Jarboe’s) songwriting, it contains some of his greatest work and frankly is the one single Swans album where absolutely no song could be removed to make it better. Like other albums of this period from the band, it straddles their two styles – there are moments of visceral power (the opening Better Than You, the hammering fury of You Know Nothing), and there are ballads of elegant beauty (Love Will Save You, Miracle of Love) – but is elevated even further by having the simple, stark paean to life’s mistakes (and the human propensity to repeat them, over and over) of Failure as the album’s brilliant, untouchable centrepiece.
Yeah, so Love of Life isn’t as good, but it certainly has worthwhile moments, the thrilling rush of the title track for a start. And add to that the wealth of additional material, with different versions of some songs, B-sides, live tracks, and the overall feeling is one that Gira was finally doing these albums the justice they deserved all the long.
The Future of Dreaming
While bands reform and return frequently, it is certainly fairly unusual for a label to re-appear, particularly smaller labels in “our” scene. So the return of Crunch Pod, was surprising and welcome. The baton has been picked up, as I understand it, by Karloz M. of Manufactura, and the return was heralded by a sprawling, 32-track compilation that covers just about every base in (instrumental) industrial electronics from both North America and Europe. There are exclusive tracks, remixes, and a few familiar names amid the lengthy list – and it is a release that works well as a snapshot of the scene at the time.