The 10 Best Reissues of 2017

Treble staff

There’s plenty of reason to be frustrated with the record industry, when so much effort is spent on gimmicks, cynical market capitalizations or re-releases of music that many of us have already bought three times already. But as is so often the case, 2017 also delivered some very cool reissues. Some of it, admittedly, was material that we were quite familiar with but expanded and given new historical light. Others were compilations or collections of material that had mostly gone unheard for years. And others still were finally saved from obscurity after being out of print for years. While this collection of the year’s best archival material wasn’t voted on in any scientific way, nor did we get around to test-driving every box set or remaster that hit the market, we know that these 10 were incredible and well worth the effort. So what the hell: Here are the 10 best reissues of 2017, according to our highly unscientific survey.


Mulatu of Ethiopia reviewMulatu Astatke
Mulatu of Ethiopia

(Strut)

One of the greatest pleasures I had this year was being able to catch Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke at this year’s Psycho Las Vegas festival, his psychedelic jazz performance a breathtaking break from an otherwise intense weekend of metal. Not coincidentally, Strut Records also delivered a proper reissue of his Mulatu of Ethiopia album, which wasn’t his actual debut but definitely his first to showcase a blend of jazz with more traditional Ethiopian elements that resulted in an influential and groundbreaking sound. A 3xLP edition of the album shows how meticulous the process was to get here, with different instruments up front and different mixes revealing scrapped ideas and sketches that were mere stepping stones to the revelatory sounds of the final seven-track album. Yet even without the bonus material, this is an essential addition to the catalog. – Jeff Terich


best reissues of 2017 B12B12
Electro-Soma I+II Anthology

(Warp)

Between 1992 and 1994 Warp Records released what became known as the Artificial Intelligence series, eight albums of forward-thinking electronic music that would predate and presage the “braindance” and “intelligent dance music” (IDM) monikers. There were plenty of tall trees in this digital forest: Aphex Twin, Autechre, Alex Paterson, Kenny Larkin. Nestled among them were smaller acts like the London duo of Mike Golding and Steve Rutter, who rode their B12 nom de plume to critical mass with the fourth release in the series, Electro-Soma. The album included then-new works as well as tracks recorded on their own namesake label under other stage names like Musicology, Redcell, and Cmetric. Warp has remastered this LP from original sources as well as a second volume of the duo’s work stretching back into 1991 and forward to their 1996 album Time Tourist. Supplemented with new historical writing, this is an excursion into acid-dipped electro at its most exceedingly pleasant. – Adam Blyweiss


best reissues of 2017 Alice ColtraneAlice Coltrane
World Spirituality Classics Vol. 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
(Luaka Bop)

The legendary harpist and jazz composer’s trove of spiritually-motivated material is unearthed and much of it released for the first time on this compilation of ’80s and ’90s-era material. Following the death of husband John Coltrane in 1967, Alice Coltrane—an accomplished and acclaimed jazz performer in her own right—sought out spiritual exploration and, in 1983, eventually developed her own ashram in Southern California, which she directed until her death in 2007. While the establishment of the ashram meant a retreat from public life, it wasn’t a retreat from music for her. In fact, she recorded her share of material in the ashram, which comprises the whole of this Luaka Bop compilation. Much of it is previously unreleased, and as such opens a window into a side of Coltrane that had mostly gone unheard to the public. It’s deeply spiritual material, yet soulful as well, her recordings blending chants with ambient synthesizers, new age soundscapes and gospel choirs. It’s not jazz, but it’s not traditional Hindustani classical music either. It is, however, incredible. – Jeff Terich


best reissues of 2017 Dear NoraDear Nora
Mountain Rock

(Orindal)

Katie Davidson’s work as Dear Nora contributed to the increasingly introspective proclivities of the simmering indie rock scene of the Pacific Northwest. Her stripped down, bedroom folk influence blends Joni Mitchell, Young Marble Giants and Arthur Russell into short yet highly intricate ditties. Earlier this year, Orindal Records reissued 2004’s Mountain Rock, Davidson’s favorite Dear Nora release. Recorded in the wake of George Bush’s first term, 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war, the album captures feelings of doubt and uncertainty of the impending future. The project’s simple complexities and musical contradictions will only unravel upon repeated listening, landing between an arresting state of “bliss and terror.” – Patrick Pilch


best reissues of 2017 Husker DuHüsker Dü
Savage Young Dü

(Numero Group)

It’s tragic coincidence that Numero Group’s box set of early Hüsker Dü material arrived shortly after the death of founding member Grant Hart. But then again it feels like a fitting tribute to a crucial punk trailblazer. Savage Young Dü charts the band’s pre-Zen Arcade material, including the early releases Everything Falls Apart and the In A Free Land EP. By and large, however, the bulk of the material is from the vaults, including a series of early demos—which utterly rip—as well as some blazing rehearsal tracks and a long list of live takes. That much of it is fairly lo-fi actually fits the band’s M.O. They played harder and faster than just about everyone in early ’80s punk, their speed-freak intensity downright terrifying to behold. The material collected here shows not just how exciting a thing it was, but how consistently strong they were. Even at their most raw, Hüsker Dü ran circles around most other punk bands. – Jeff Terich


best reissues of 2017 QueenQueen
News of the World: 40th Anniversary Edition

(EMI)

For the fourth year in a row, Queen have opened the vaults for a new box set, this one honoring the 40th anniversary of their 1977 album News of the World. Compared to previous Queen releases, the band’s sixth album was a stripped-down affair.  Recorded over two months and on the eve of a U.S. tour, News of the World dropped the endless overdubs and “guitar orchestrations” that was Queen’s calling card, and instead featured a more raw sound influenced by the punk scene that had exploded around them. The album only reached number four in the U.K. but it hit number three in the U.S. (the group’s highest stateside chart position to that point) and produced the anthems “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” In addition to the album itself, the box comes with alternate, live, and early versions of the tracks on News of the World.  There’s also a new documentary, Queen: The American Dream, which dives into the making of the album and the band’s 1977 tour of the U.S. – Adam Ellsworth


best reissues of 2017 R.E.M.R.E.M.
Automatic for the People (25th Anniversary Edition)

(Craft)

To start their 1990s, college-rock godheads R.E.M. released a pair of albums that were literally as different as day and night. Out of Time in 1991 was largely sun-dappled, a hot country road of an album, visually and musically draped in dusty brown and playful yellows and greens. The following year we heard Automatic for the People, all shades of black and tints of gray, full of veiled and funereal references to death and politics, sexuality and celebrity. It didn’t elevate their legendary jangle so much as damn near leave it behind in favor of dour, gothic post-punk stylings and stunning improvements on their previous album’s chamber pop. From the swapping of instruments to the thematic embrace of comic chameleon Andy Kaufman, and with sonic references to The Tokens and David Essex, Automatic for the People is a classic, haunting document of misdirection. In addition to the remastered album, the band supplied a huge number of outtakes and demos showing the construction process for songs like “Try Not to Breathe,” “Man on the Moon” and “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1.” The real discoveries among yet another beautiful R.E.M. package, however, might be a rare 1992 club show promoting the album and “Photograph,” a hard-to-find pro-choice charity single the band recorded with Natalie Merchant. – Adam Blyweiss


Pharoah Sanders reissues reviewPharoah Sanders
Tauhid/Jewels of Thought/Deaf Dumb Blind

(Anthology)

Considering the staggering number of truly unnecessary vinyl reissues choking the market these days, it’s always a blessing to have some genuine musical treasures finally see their way back to wax. Pharoah Sanders’ decade of work on Impulse! Records is some of the most intense and moving spiritual jazz committed to tape, and three of those titles were just reissued on vinyl via Anthology. Tauhid, Jewels of Thought and Deaf Dumb Blind are three of Sanders’ greatest moments for different reasons, specifically their compositional focus, impassioned performances and transcendent groove, respectively. They sound wonderful, and credit goes to Anthology for delivering reissues that look magnificent as well, including the box set that compiles the three. – Jeff Terich


best albums of September 2017 Neil YoungNeil Young
Hitchhiker

(Reprise)

It’s kind of funny to hear the zonked product of Neil Young’s long-lost album Hitchhiker 30 years after its recording. Giggles and coughs decoratively litter the record’s dead space, highlighting the impulsive and impromptu bender occurring at the time of the material’s conception. At Indigo Ranch in the summer of 1976, Young recorded all 10 songs in succession in a single night, only pausing for “weed, beer, or coke.” Of the ten tracks, only two new ones appear, the frequently bootlegged “Give Me Strength” and “Hawaii.” Both are of equal calibur compared to the album’s re-recorded and reused tracks, becoming pinnacle examples of arguably the most creative period of singer-songwriter’s life. – Patrick Pilch


Zazou Bikaye CY1 reissueZazou Bikaye CY1
Noir et Blanc

(Crammed Discs)

One of the most idiosyncratic releases of the ’80s and, for many years, a hard-to-find cult crate dig, Noir et Blanc has been given a proper reintroduction after far too long in the archives. The result of a collaboration between French producer Hector Zazou, Congolese singer Bony Bikaye and synth duo CY1, Noir et Blanc is a meeting of creative minds that sounds like nothing of the era in which it was produced and pretty much still feels like a piece of music we haven’t caught up with. It brings together African pop music with a razor-sharp proto-industrial synth sound that’s just this side of Suicide. It’s innovative and strange, and essentially defines futuristic. The reissue comes with a handful of digital bonus tracks in the form of remixes, though the real revelation is hearing this truly strange, wonderful and obscure piece of music—for most listeners—for the first time. It remains an incredible piece of work after 35 years. – Jeff Terich

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