Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year in Music: Best Reissues

Some of the most impressive reissues that came across my desk this year happened to come from artists that hail from right here in the Sunshine State, with others coming from Texas and Scotland. Of course, the wonderful Omnivore Recordings led the charge, as usual. Read on for the lowdown...

1. The Dream Syndicate, “The Days of Wine and Roses” (Omnivore) – A vital part of LA’s Paisley Underground movement during the early ‘80s, the quartet was initially influenced by The Doors and Velvets, with a penchant for extended jams. Steve Wynn and company’s mesmerizing full length debut is often considered a seminal release of the period. Highlights include “Tell Me When It’s Over,” the slow churning jagged guitars of “Halloween,” a feedback-laden “When You Smile” and frantic title track, which continues its driving pace for nearly 7 minutes. Long out of print, the new reissue now comes with half a dozen previously unreleased rehearsal songs overseen by drummer Dennis Duck and liner note background and testimonials from members of Sonic Youth, Green on Red, Rain Parade and the Long Ryders.

2. Spoon, “Gimme Fiction” (Merge) – The fifth album by these Austin alt-rockers came after a pair of critically-acclaimed predecessors. This one was more experimental in places, but still received high marks (including a year-end top 10 slot from yours truly), a major chart debut and sales. It saw the Britt Daniel-led band utilize piano and a string quartet for the first time as well as strategically-placed drum machine and unusual time signatures. “My Mathematical Mind” ended with jagged guitar feedback, “Sister Jack” was weird avant pop bliss and the dance rock radio hit “I Turn My Camera On” recalled “Emotional Rescue”-era Stones. The 10th Anniversary edition includes the newly remastered original album on one disc; a dozen previously unreleased home demos comprise the second (the digital download boasts nine more bonus tracks). The liner notes include several rare photos, plus an expansive, frank oral history from band members and their producers – often with conflicting viewpoints.

3. Simple Minds, “Sparkle in the Rain” (Virgin/Universal) – By 1984, the Scottish art rock group had put out five albums, with two of them selling well. Yet this one was the first to go double platinum, debut at No. 1 and spawn three top 25 hits (“Waterfront,” “Up on the Catwalk,” “Speed Your Love to Me”) in the UK. The definition of grandeur and “big music,” the Steve Lillywhite-produced “Sparkle in the Rain” was rife with anthems and spirited music of the soul from singer Jim Kerr. Remastered at Abbey Road Studios and overseen by guitarist Charlie Burchill, the sound is better than ever. The deluxe expanded edition’s Disc Two includes rare B-sides - some making their CD debut for the first time – notably a live version “Hunter And The Hunted,” 12” remixes of “Waterfront,” “Speed Your Love To Me,” “Up On The Catwalk,” “A Brass Band In Africa” and “Bass Line.” The Pure Audio Blu-ray takes the sonics to a pristine level with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and high resolution stereo mixes by Steven Wilson. Kerr looks back at the making of the album in a 2014 interview contained in the liner notes with archival photos. 

4. Jack's Mannequin, “Everything in Transit: 10th Anniversary Edition” (Rhino/Maverick) – Following the demise of SoCal alt-pop fave Something Corporate, Andrew McMahon started Jack’s Mannequin and delved into more mature coming of age stories with a less aggressive approach. Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee played on half the solid concept album’s studio songs. Both singles (“Dark Blue,” “The Mixed Tape”) should’ve been big hits, but the singer/piano’s battle with leukemia delayed label promotion until he was well. The new edition features a second disc of rarities, including two live tracks, a more majestic acoustic take on “Bruised,” breezy Christmas song “The Lights and Buzz” and standout “Locked Doors.” McMahon puts it all into perspective with a foreword note.

5. Translator, “Sometimes People Forget” (Omnivore) – Formed in LA by two musicians from a Beatles tribute show in 1979, the new wave-meets-psychedelic band found success when it moved to the Bay Area and signed to the influential 415 Records. The poppy “Everywhere I’m Not” became a college/modern rock radio hit (I remember hearing it on regular rotation on KROQ/106.7 FM Los Angeles back in the day) and garnered MTV exposure. That signature Translator tune is included here, along with 20 previously unreleased demos (often in serrated form) from 1979-85. It gives casual listeners and even major fans a great glimpse into the creative process. Vocalist Steve Barton provides a detailed history in the liner notes, while Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, Translator producers Ed Stasium and David Kahne offer recollections.

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