Below are our favorite reissues and compilations from the past year. You can pre-order our year-end zine (Issue #3) here.
Ariel Kalma: An Evolutionary Music (Original Recordings: 1972-1979) [RVNG Intl.]
First off, good on RVNG Intl. for ushering Ariel Kalma into the contemporary public eye. Out of all the labels partaking in the trend of reissuing obscure records by lost/forgotten/recluse geniuses (a trend rigorously outlined in Michael Blair’s and Joe Bucciero’s piece on Mike Cooper), RVNG has presented some of the richest texts this year, and An Evolutionary Music is a peacock’s feather in the label’s proverbial cap. But how the hell did Ariel Kalma fall into obscurity anyway? With his connections to the famous French GRM workshop and a psychically seductive approach to blending minimalism and jazz form, you would think that Kalma would have been able to tap into the avant-garde’s hunger, at the time, for intricate spiritual music. Well, better late than never. As if birthed from the dialectic of Terry Riley and Don Cherry during their collaborative concert in Köln, Germany in 1975, Kalma’s choice of instrumentation-- saxophone, keyboard, tape delay-- beats Bitchin’ Bajas at their own game, four decades in advance, with proto-New Age, proto-Drone music that radiates chilling warmth like the early Spring sunshine. It makes you wonder what lost works of today the RVNG Intl. of four decades from now will unearth. --Mike Sugarman
David First: Electronic Works 1976-1977 [Dais]
1958-59: Vladimir Ussachevsky, Otto Luening, Milton Babbitt, and Roger Sessions found the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, obtaining the custom-built RCA Mark II as their flagship piece of equipment. 1963: Don Buchla and Robert Moog individually invent the first commercial modular synthesizers. 1964-66: The CPEMC obtains a large collection of synths, including a Buchla 100, and becomes a mecca for the world’s greatest minds in electronic music. 1967: Morton Subotnik’s Silver Apples of the Moon, created using a Buchla, becomes the first all-electronic LP commissioned by a record company (Nonesuch). 1970s: Innovations are made in digital computer music, leaving analog synths by the wayside in academic research and composition. Unlike the Moog synth, which became huge among psychedelic pop and rock bands in the late ‘60s and ‘70s because of its keyboard function, the Buchla was destined to be remembered only by those particularly interested in its unique functions and sound possibilities.
1976-1977: David First enrolls in an electronic music class at Princeton, gains unlimited access to their analog equipment, finds the dusty Buchla 100, records several highly original compositions exploring its timbres to reel-to-reel tapes, puts them in a closet somewhere. 1977-present: First has a successful and influential career as a member of No Wave band The Notekillers and as a solo composer of electronic drone music [see album Privacy Issues (droneworks 1996-2009)]. 2014: David First starts the year off with a bang, releasing those previously unreleased (and probably unheard) recordings from his year at Princeton. There’s a wide range of styles here, from the proto-Merzbow sounding “Pulse Piece” to the jazz guitar-inflected “Moody,” all of them worth the 37-year wait. Electronic Works 1976-1977 is a piece of history, and one that sounds shockingly contemporary. --Isaiah David
DJ Moondawg: We Invented the Bop [Not on label]
In the opening seconds of We Invented the Bop, DJ Moondawg sums it up best: “All last year, I gave you a lot of that quality drill music. But that’s not all we do in Chicago, so lemme introduce you to the next shit. We invented the bop!” Bop didn’t start as a “response” to drill or something-- its origins were just a way of dancing, birthing a new style of original trax to go with it, one built for turnup. This is the first proper survey of the style, and the selection includes many of the key tracks from the scene (Sicko Mobb’s “Fiesta,” S.B.E.’s “Killin It,” Lil Chris’ “Bop Like Me”), giving it the nod over Volume 2. --Matt Sullivan
John Coltrane: Offering: Live at Temple University [Resonance]
On November 11, 1966, John Coltrane performed in his hometown of Philadelphia at Temple University to a seemingly perplexed crowd. A few months later, the forty-year-old reached his ill-timed demise. This fact seems to guide the course for most of the conversations and comments regarding Coltrane’s late gigs. Grandiose descriptions, such as “legendary” or “mythical” are thrown around enthusiastically, and it’s easy to understand why. Through them, people seek signs-- any gesture or sound-- that may foreshadow the impending doom. Every detail is carefully observed because it may conceal some sort of crevice that hints an upcoming downfall. But if Coltrane’s showing at Philadelphia reveals anything, it’s actually the contrary. Coltrane played standards such as “Naima,” “Leo,” “Offering,” “My Favorite Things,” and “Crescent,” only to maneuver through them, to find new ways of communicating through his saxophone and even through his voice. These classic tracks function as mere reference points; they are fleshed out and reassembled until havoc is raised. For example, during “Crescent,” Coltrane takes the instrument out of his mouth and furiously pounds his chest while he vocalizes. This is not an act of desperation, but rather an action derived from his desire to avoid stagnation. Every track displays a willingness to go further, to set himself ablaze through free jazz, his saxophone piercing through the air like a Yamantaka Eye scream. Coltrane’s incendiary performance is frenzied and, at times, overwhelming. And that is precisely what makes it so special: the fact that it grips you and won’t let go until you’re pale with exhaustion. If anything, this late Coltrane set is one of his most feral performances. There are no signs of a burgeoning peril. It’s just Coltrane taking Temple University by storm. A fantastic offering. --Jean Burset
Lewis: L’Amour and Romantic Times [Light in the Attic]
There’s always the hope that the trawler of record stores may make an incredible discovery in the forgotten detritus of old records, most of which will possess terrible album covers and terrible music. The pair of Lewis records that saw reissue this year courtesy of Light in the Attic are without a doubt a fulfillment of that wish. It’s easy to get caught up in the mythic story of these records that has emerged. Even though the long search for Lewis ended this summer, the thrill of the albums’ mystery hasn’t been extinguished. If anything, the discovery of Randal Wulff-- alive, confident, and indifferent to our fascination with his music-- could not have been a better conclusion.
The irony of this story, however, is that, despite the pseudonyms and mysterious circumstances surrounding these records, they couldn’t be more intimate or honest. L’Amour, probably the better of the two, is a collection of ten quiet, tender, and strikingly modest folk songs. The synth, a hallmark of the epoch, which permeates the songs, only seems to emphasis the vulnerability and earnestness of his music: a seemingly naive attempt to fit in with the times that works despite the odds. Lewis’s follow up, Romantic Times, credited to Lewis Baloue, is less shy. Drum machines enter the arrangements, and the synthesizers take a more prominent role than before. But the louder Lewis sings, the more his voice trembles. Despite his mysterious inaccessibility, and despite the signifiers of wealth Lewis obsessed over surrounding himself with, the vulnerability displayed in these records is beautiful and inescapable. --Miguel Gallego
There's an astounding sense of immensity to M. Geddes Gengras' recorded, previously unreleased material gathered on New Process Music. Packaged and released by Umor Rex, the imprint that brought us last year's equally fantastic Vol. 1: The Moog Years, Vol. 2 shows Gengres streamlining his towering racks down to solely a small Eurorack synth and magnavox tape echo. Across eight meticulous tracks of patched bliss and focused improvisation, Gengras dives deep into the nuanced intricacies of experimental music for analog electronics. These are the sounds of a master of collaboration (see any of Gengras’ work with Robedoor, LA Vampires, Pocahaunted, Sun Araw et al. for proof) boldly exploring alone with his most austere toolbox to date. Coupled with the equally mesmerizing Ishi LP on Leaving Records (released in June), you’ve got a riveting duo of works that show synth legend in entirely different lights. --Bobby Power
Mamman Sani: Taaritt [Sahel Sounds]
How does Christopher Kirkley find this stuff? Ok, how the Sahel Sounds head finds the contemporary music makes sense. As he outlined in the profile we ran on him earlier this year, once he figured out that the grating music people would play from their cellphones on the bus was actually excellent, he started to become savvy at hunting down this or that active musician through a combination of word-of-mouth and social media savvy. Ok, great. How the hell did he find an album of home-studio synthesizer renditions of Saharan folk ballads recorded two and a half decades ago in France that was, to boot, never released? What’s amazing about most of the Sahel Sounds catalog is how infectious most of the music is, and Taaritt is no exception. With velvet tones, ceaseless grooves, and an eye on the starry heavens, Taaritt mesmerizes. While obvious parallels can be drawn to Numero Group’s anthology of private press electronic soul music from a couple years back, Personal Space, Taaritt’s trump card is its chiller-than-chill vibe, perfect for those quiet moments of bliss that accompany lounging, sipping, smoking, and boogie-ing in a dimly lit living room. --Mike Sugarman
Motion Sickness of Time Travel: Ballades [Hooker Vision]
Back in September 2013, Rachel Evans set upon recording and releasing an album a month for the next year with her Motion Sickness of Time Travel solo project. Each album consists of single nearly-hour-long tracks that was released as a limited-edition CD-R, titled after Native American names for the full moon in the month each was recorded: “Ballade for a Wolf Moon,” “Ballade for a Harvest Moon,” etc. Those twelve tracks have were then collected on Ballades, a six-cassette box set consisting of nearly eleven hours of sprawling, wide-ranging ambient electronics-- a sort of Farmers’ Almanac of drone.
Ballades is an ambitious collection, to say the least-- and the shear breadth of it all can be a little overwhelming. It is eleven friggin’ hours long, after all. But it’s worth the plunge. Flurries of melody peek through the din on “Ballade for a Snow Moon,” while notes freeze in place on other winter-month iterations. “Ballade for a Strawberry Moon” is a light and airy stroll, whereas “Ballade for a Sturgeon Moon” radiates heat. The set, which came out on Evans’s own Hooker Vision label, also came packaged with a lunar calendar designed by Evans that serves as something of a sonic guidepost. Ballades succeeds in underscoring the variety that can exist in soundscapes that might otherwise seem fairly static. And just like the year, it’s over quicker than you’d expect. -- Matthew W. Sullivan
Powell: 11-14 [Diagonal]
Powell must have figured out that us fans were getting tired of going on YouTube to listen to his singles every time we needed a fix. 11-14 executes the simple and necessary project of collecting all of Powell’s 12”s that exist-- released from 2011 through this year, per the anthology’s title-- ordering tracks not by chronology, but by style. It was released on Powell’s own powerful label, Diagonal. What we learn about Powell by listening to all of his tracks, back to back, is that the typical explanation of his music-- noisy, dark, revenant to Sandwell District-- does little justice to his tendencies most worthy of superlatives. You don’t often hear, for instance, that Powell’s music is fun, yet he constantly plants these strange little moments on record that lighten the mood significantly: some sampled jargon spoken phrase, some decontextualized post-punk or an Ayler flip, some unexpected mixer feedback. Unlike with Regis or Surgeon, certainly big influences on Powell, you can actually picture the guy smiling while making this music. Typical descriptions of it also exclude the primacy of grooves, and many of the tracks on 11-14, especially “Nude,” sound like Powell listened to a lot of Kraftwerk and Brad Fiedel’s theme for the first Terminator movie and then asked himself, “huh, could this all be funkier?” This groove, the fun, the noisiness puts him most closely on par not with some European techno brethren, but with Container, who wields the same elements with an identical evident motive to make people on the floor just lose their shit. It’s exciting to hear a young producer play with British industrial music, post-punk, and power electronics (there is surprising overlap with William Bennett's Cut Hands material) while keeping the music so jubilant, suggesting that the legacy of British Murder Boys will not solely be interpreted by dark, brooding boys like Vatican Shadow. --Mike Sugarman
Randall McClellan: The Healing Music of Rana [Sun Ark Records]
Can we forget about American primitivism for a second, and start talking about American minimalism? Just kidding, Joe (but really, dude). No, a few months ago I dragged my partner into Tribeca to spend some time lounging around on the carpets of La Monte Young’s Dream House, in which sustained sine waves from a custom Rayna synth drone on for ~10 hours a day. The experience was intensely meditative, and after a couple hours, when we eventually decided we’d had enough, we emerged dazed and renewed. I imagine sitting in on one of Randall McClellan’s performances in the early '80s, a number of which comprise his reissue box-set The Healing Music of Rana, must have produced a very similar effect.
Healing Music first appeared online late last year in installments on Bandcamp, and if you heard about them then, it was most likely through J.D. Emmanuel’s Facebook feed. J.D., a master American minimalist who’s seen a fair share of his own work reissued recently, helped Randall McClellan compile the music from various performances previously released on private presses. The sounds within are blissful, subtly shifting pieces of synth and vocal workouts, created with a couple Moogs stacked atop each other for simultaneous play and a reel-to-reel set-up that enables tape loops to build and slowly disintegrate as new melodies are played over them. Informed by North Indian vocal music and ragas, as well as Eastern and sacred thought-- the principals of which are outlined in his (highly recommended) book-- McClellan aims to guide us through meditation and healing with his music. It’s a sentiment shared by other minimalists like Terry Riley, La Monte Young, and J.D., and one that produces a kind of stunning calm unheard anywhere else. --Ian Pearson
Roy Montgomery: 324 E. 13th Street #7 [Yellow Electric]
A face that should naturally cut into the mountainous stone of Milford Sound, Roy Montgomery has yet to singularly define a categorical New Zealand noise. Yet it does not matter that he hasn’t, as Montgomery enters another prolific chapter in his musical life by revisiting one of his better known, if still neglected, albums. Courtesy of pal Liz Harris’s Yellow Electric vanity plate, this year’s reissue of 324 E. 13th Street #7 comes fifteen years after the compilation first graced too-few ears. Now with a wave of new zeal sweeping Montgomery’s homeland, the time seems ripe to place Montgomery on a pedestal already tipping thanks to the weighty presences of Russell, Knox, Jefferies, and two Kilgours.
Yet Montgomery’s repertoire has stood out as an oddity when held up to his island contemporaries. This album serves a good primer to any fan looking to explore the artist’s middle period, or those finding themselves diverging from canonical New Zealand pop. It’s not that Montgomery is an outcast, though, but rather a recluse. This is a collection largely constructed on his solitary work at the titular address, but it casts a sky high shadow on his peers in the sheer nakedness of its conceit. Long stripped of Western extravagance, New Zealand’s pop movement has still clung to some of the lavishness of catchiness. Yet little of 324 E. 13th Street #7 could be considered catchy, though it does have its own fetching allure. Where many fetishized the art of VU in New Zealand circles, Montgomery clings to the mood. It’s a different vibe down on 324 E. 13th Street #7-- perhaps an island onto itself. --Justin Spicer
Various Artists: 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, and 10.4 [Hyperdub]
This year, Hyperdub celebrated ten years of being the definitive peddlers of leftfield dance with an ambitious anniversary series of four staggered compilations, showcasing everything from the label’s origins in dystopian bass music to its current penchant for anxious, future-leaning wonk. From the classic, creep-wooze of “Chasing A Beast” by label head Kode9 & the Spaceape to the moody, computer-age balladry of Darkstar’s “Ostkreuz,” all four releases have been carefully curated to create a streamlined roadmap of Hyperdub’s past, present, and imminent future.
Filled with a deluge of limited release material as well as perennial favorites from core members of the label’s roster, the compilations each take on a new theme from shadowy dub to smoove club, beginning with 10.1, the mother-of-all-starter sets, which expounds upon the kind of sinister, rough-around-the-edges aesthetic with which Hyperdub first shot to prominence.
However, if there’s one thing Kode9’s not known for, it’s complacency. Infamous for his ever-evolving (and pretty spot on) curatorial taste, the "definitive" Hyperdub on 10.1 is augmented by the other three releases, which showcase obvious shifts away from the aggressive, underbelly vibe that defined the label’s early years. Take 10.2, which leans toward warped bass meets future R&B often wrapped in warm, velvety vocals and seductive synth samples, featuring the likes of Jessy Lanza and Terror Danjah. Or 10.3, which is filled with weirder, concept-driven, avant-experimental tracks propelled by faceless production powerhouses including Burial, Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland, and other creative forces like Fatima al Qadiri. Hinging then on acts like DVA and Teklife, the progression through the compilations builds up toward the kind of strange, robo-future vision of off-kilter dance that appears on 10.4 thanks to tracks like Kode9’s “Oh” and artists like Laurel Halo. --Sandra Song