Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Favorite Reissues (and Such) of 2014

Before the unveiling, I wanted to mention a few fantastic reissues that deserve attention but didn't make my list. The reasons vary a bit, but it often comes down to me not pulling the trigger on a purchase due to already owning too much of the material. Cherry Red's 'C86' box, for example, was arguably the best of this year's bunch, but I have the original release and a majority of the bonus material. The same goes with Pixies' 'Doolittle 25.' It's a quality collection worthy of inclusion, and the packaging is impressive, but most of us already have the original album, as well as the B-sides and 'At the BBC' discs. I don't have the demos, but that's just not enough "new" material to make me buy it... even at the very fair sticker price.

For the most part, I stayed away from including pieces of music that were eligible only because they were on vinyl for the first time. If there was bonus material included, then that's fair game, but without this caveat there would be far too many candidates. Having said that, the original releases of 'Blue Bell Knoll' and 'Heaven or Las Vegas' from Cocteau Twins can be bought on vinyl now, and it was tempting to include them here.

Much of the Wedding Present's best work was re-released this year as positively stuffed three CD + one DVD editions, and not including them here is a travesty, but I haven't bought them (yet!). Most know
the Jayhawks from early works like 'Hollywood Town Hall' and 'Tomorrow the Green Grass,' but there were a few albums after that worthy of your attention. 'Smile,' 'Sound of Lies' and 'Rainy Day Music' can be got on vinyl now, and there is just enough bonus material to make me want them (again). McCarthy has a four-disc box seductively titled 'Complete Albums, Singles and BBC Sessions,' but it's not complete, and there are a few other problems I won't get into here. The band has been grossly underrated forever, however. So, I feel like I want to recommend it anyway. I could go on and on, in fact, I just remembered the Wolfhounds' 'Unseen Ripples From a Pebble,' grr, but let's just get to my top 10 already:

1. The Rainyard
'A Thousand Days'
I have been worshipping these Aussie jangle gods and Summershine veterans for four months now. Unlike most of the selections on this list, a majority of the songs on this compilation were new to me. Its freshness undoubtedly contributed to 'A Thousand Days' rising to the top of the heap. Unfortunately, you may already be out of luck because only 300 copies of the album were lovingly pressed by the folks at the Spanish label Pretty Olivia. You can download the lovely "So Happy Now" for free by clicking here.

2. Dexys
'Nowhere Is Home'
'One Day I'm Going to Soar' is nothing short of a miracle, but that album is even better performed live. If you have seen the double DVD concert and documentary, then you know the nine-night residency at London's Duke of York's Theatre in the spring of 2013, chronicled on 'Nowhere Is Home,' was something special. The sound of the quadruple 180g vinyl version I have is heaven on headphones. So good to have you back, Kevin.

3. Wilco
'Alpha Mike Foxtrot'
If you don't have a majority of the band's studio albums, this isn't the collection for you. It's like XTC's 'Coat of Many Cupboards' box set... an offering for the fanatics. This collects B-sides, live performances, alternative versions and work from soundtracks and tribute albums between 1994 and 2014. I already had many of the 77 tracks, but there was enough new here to take the plunge. My interest in Wilco had cooled in recent years, but this has me stoked again.

4. Aztec Camera
'High Land, Hard Rain'
Ridiculous. How many copies can one person own? For seemingly the umpteenth time, I bought the vinyl reissue last December. Within weeks, however, Domino released this new CD edition with a couple of nuggets on a second disc, such as the Kid Jensen session, that I didn't officially own. Had to have it. At least this gave me a chance to let my slightly scratchy 12" singles from the era have a well-deserved rest.

5. Big Country
'Steeltown' and 'The Seer'
From the "Harvest Home" single in 1982 through 'The Seer' in 1986, my fandom for Big Country runs deep. So, any time there is a new edition of one of the band's albums, I'm first in line. Both of these are two-disc affairs. My beef with 'Steeltown,' as with the deluxe edition of 'The Crossing from 2012, is the omission of Steve Lillywhite's brilliant extended 12" singles. You do get the B-sides and radio edits, as well as three of the four songs from the 'Wonderland' EP. The real find is the previously unreleased rough mixes and works in progress, but I understand that isn't for the casual fan. Goodies from 'The Seer' include seven B-sides, the complete 'Restless Natives' soundtrack and, yes, the 12" versions of the singles.

6. The Bluebells
'Exile on Twee Street'
I have always enjoyed a few of the band's singles and B-sides but have always wondered what Alan Horne saw in them when they were considered for Postcard Records. These 20 recordings (mostly demos) from between 1980 and 1982 certainly helped solve the mystery. Songs the Bluebells would later come to be known for, such as "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," "Happy Birthday," and "Sugar Bridge," were a whole lot better without the polish.

7. The Mighty Lemon Drops
'Uptight: The Early Recordings 1985/1986'
I'm a sucker for most of the bands that appeared on 'C86,' and here is a mess of work from the band just before and just after the famous session for NME in March 1986. You get the four tracks issued on the 7" and 12" editions of the "Like an Angel" single, four songs recorded for BBC Radio 1, three songs from the 'C86' session, five demos from the summer of '86, as well as the extremely limited (150 copies) eight-song 'Some of My Best Friends Are Songs' cassette released by Uptight Records. You can certainly hear why Daniel Treacy wanted the lads on his Dreamworld label.

8. The Ocean Blue
I will remember 2014 as the year I discovered the Ocean Blue is much more than a one-album wonder. This time a year ago all I had was the brilliant debut and the then brand-new 'Ultramarine,' a record that was No. 11 on my best-of list for 2013. Now I have the Ocean Blue's entire discography, including this 2004 EP that got a second go around four months ago with three additional tracks and a first ever vinyl release.

9. Jazzateers
'Don't Let Your Son Grow Up to Be a Cowboy'
Amazing. Here is the second band on this list to almost be a part of Postcard Records. This collection rounds up unreleased demos, singles that never saw the light of day and songs from 'Lee,' an album from 1983 that didn't get released either. A real highlight is "Wasted," produced by Edwyn Collins. At the end of this disc you're gonna wonder why Jazzateers never quite made it. Wasted, indeed.

10. Sneakers
For power-pop fans such as myself, Record Store Day's Black Friday celebration was a fruitful one. Before Chris Stamey started the dB's and Mitch Easter formed Let's Active, both were in Sneakers. This 10" goes all the way back to the band's first release in 1976, when the recording was a six-song 7". Three songs have been added, including a cover of the Grass Roots' ""Let's Live For Today." Other namedropping includes the dB's Will Rigby on drums and Don Dixon assisting and engineering. Don't expect 'Stands for Decibels,' but this is an historical artifact worth digging up.


Scott said...

One of my few regrets gig wise over recent years was not going to see Dexys on that tour in Edinburgh.
You can never have too many versions of High Land Hard Rain. Gig of the year for me was Roddy Frame at Glasgow Concert Hall.
Good to see The Bluebells, Mighty Lemon Drops and The Jazzatears in there.
Really enjoyed the jingly jangly Rainyard track. Will have to check out the album.

Cheers, Scott

Brian said...

Hi Scott. Glad you found something here. This is probably a narrow list in your view, and you would be correct, but that's just how it panned out this year. So, please let me know about any Stax, Atlantic R&B reissues and the like. You're one of my big lifelines in that arena.

I'm not much for DVDs of shows, but 'Nowhere Is Home' is an exception. If you haven't seen it yet, well, it will probably make you regret your decision not to see them even more, to be honest, but you get my point. It's a keeper. About a year ago I corresponded with Friend of Rachel Worth about Frame's London appearance to perform High Land, Hard Rain, and it sounded like quite a night. Was that the show you saw this year, or was it in support of the new one? I really wanted to come over for the High Land shows... although I probably would have chosen his Scotland stop. What did you think of Seven Dials? Talk to you over at Spools Paradise soon. Take care.

Scott said...

Hi Brian, at heart I am still an indie kid going to see bands at Level 8 in Strathclyde University back in the mid 80's, so there is plenty of stuff here that is right up my street. The Roddy Frame gig was in support of the new album but he played at least half a dozen tracks from High Land, although surprisingly not Pillar To Post. Took me while to get into Seven Dials but glad I persevered as it is now one of my top albums of the year. Cheers, Scott

Uncle E said...


Brilliant, brilliant selection! I have a couple of these (Big Country, Wilco) and they are excellent. You've given me quite a few more to hunt down. Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

Brian said...

Uncle E,
You're one of my oldest and most cherished readers. I thought of hanging it up a few times, and your contributions kept this blog going. Thank you. I hope you and your family have a fabulous holiday!

By the way, I tried to leave this note at your place the other day, but I had some trouble. Do you remember the original version of the Owner of a Lonely Heart video? The world premiere on MTV had some disturbing images, including the protagonist washing his face in maggots. In those days I never missed a new video, but that one gave me nightmares. Edits were made almost immediately.