Monster: 25th Anniversary
Perhaps REM’s most divisive album got a full remix this year courtesy of producer Scott Litt. Once a heavy, glammy return to rock after the lighter textures of Automatic For The People, the new Monster was now a little more in keeping with its predecessors, for better and for worse. Those keen to discover more about this period could also delve into a world of demos.
29 PETER LAUGHNER
SMOG VEIL RECORDS
This vital, 56-track retrospective assembled home and rehearsal recordings, live cuts and radio appearances by Laughner, an important American catalyst, best known for his work with Rocket From The Tombs and Pere Ubu. The mix of covers (Dylan, Reed, Television) and originals illustrate his development and his fixations. A final disc had 13 solo recordings made on the night Laughner died in his sleep – June 22, 1977.
28 SUPER FURRY ANIMALS
Guerrilla: 20th Anniversary
The sampladelic third album by Cardiff’s most forward-thinking band celebrated its 20th birthday this year, its Beach- Boys-meets-Aphex-Twin lunacy still sounding as revolutionary in 2019. Plus, a plethora of B-sides, demos and unheard tracks – including early versions of this century’s “Lazer Beam” and “Frequency” – shed light on the record’s strange (and costly) gestation.
27 VARIOUS ARTISTS
World Spirituality Classics 2: The Time For Peace Is Now
The second album in Luaka Bop’s ‘World Spirituality Classics’ series following Alice Coltrane’s ashram excursions, The Time For Peace Is Now was a revelatory compilation of obscure 1970s gospel. And rather than the massed choirs and roaring affirmations of gospel cliché, we discovered church groups moving with the times, responding to the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Gil Scott-Heron with moody guitars, funky beats and quasi-political messages.
26 TUBBY HAYES QUARTET
Grits, Beans And Greens: The Lost Fontana Studio Session 1969
Tubby Hayes was the closest thing Britain had to John Coltrane; after the unearthing last year of Coltrane’s brilliant Both Directions At Once, it was fitting that this year’s most essential jazz archive release was a lost Hayes LP, recorded in mid-1969 but shelved following the failure of his kitsch Tubby Hayes Orchestra album. This, though, was the real Tubby: rakish, fluent, eternally cool.
25 DAVID SYLVIAN
Secrets Of The Beehive
A host of remastered vinyl reissues from Sylvian’s post-Japan years – Brilliant Trees, Alchemy – An Index Of Possibilities, Gone To Earth and Secrets Of The Beehive – reminded us of his gifts for noir balladry, instrumental abstraction and austere atmospherics. Key was 1987’s …Beehive, whose sparse, elegant and intense qualities set the template for Sylvian’s future career.
24 ANNE BRIGGS
Reissued as part of the Topic Records 80th birthday celebrations, there were, however, no extra tracks on this magnificent debut album. In keeping with the frill-free nature of the original, we got readings of traditional songs (Briggs’ “Willie O’ Winsbury” will still be staggering when all record reviewing is done by an app), and two of her original songs. Essential.
23 BOB DYLAN (FEATURING JOHNNY CASH)
Travelin’ Thru, 1967 – 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol 15
Unlike recent, hefty instalments in the Bootleg Series, Vol 15 was a relatively modest set focusing on previously unavailable recordings made with Johnny Cash and unreleased tracks from the John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait sessions. The Cash sessions provided the heart, though – highlights included a mash-up of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Understand Your Man” among much good-natured studio banter.
The Decca/Deram Years (An Anthology) 1970–1975
Despite the absence of their hazy debut, this CD boxset collected the greatest work by the Canterbury Scene’s warmest, silliest bunch. 1970’s pastoral If I Could Do It All Over Again was the peak here, but there were feather-soft jazz-rock gems sprinkled throughout, from the sweet’n’sour balladry of 1973’s “The Dog, The Dog, He’s It At Again” to the 19-minute “For Richard” on ’74’s Live At The Fairfield Halls.
21 THE FALL
Not a great year for the UK – high Thatcherism, high unemployment, Falklands War – but a spectacular one for The Fall, and most of it is found here. The quality of the band in this iteration (check the frozen wastes of the Hex Enduction Hour album), is self-evident. This set also includes the hinterland: live shows, radio sessions, and the Room To Live LP.
Prince’s 1982 album of liberating funk-rock jams found him entering an intense purple patch. Hence this expanded edition was rich in top-quality unreleased tracks from his legendary vault: the taut, fiery riffage of “Rearrange”, the rousing “Bold Generation” and the semi-legendary “Moonbeam Levels”. And, of course, a song called “Vagina”.
19 VARIOUS ARTISTS
Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1976–1986
LIGHT IN THE ATTIC
Japanese electronic music has provided a rich seam for reissuers over the last couple of years. The flipside to the genteel ambience celebrated on Kankyõ Ongaku (see below) is the kind of beachy, new wavey, occasionally kitschy stuff compiled here by Vetiver’s Andy Cabic, among others. Naturally, various members of Yellow Magic Orchestra featured prominently on this neon-hued cocktail of delightfully off-centre pop.
18 MICHAEL ROTHER
As one of Kraftwerk, Neu! and Harmonia, the ever-youthful Rother was a huge figure in 1970s European music – but what followed in the man’s career may be even more impressive. His solo works streamlined his long-line practice, the quartet of albums from 1977’s Flammende Herzen to 1982’s Fenwärme offering pastoral variations on his motorik themes, like ripples in a sunlit pond.
17 DAVID BOWIE
After a series of smaller, vinyl-only boxsets helped document Bowie’s formative steps during 1968/’69, Conversation Piece was the motherlode – a 5CD set of home demos, radio sessions and ephemera including 12 previously unreleased tracks and a new mix of the Space Oddity album by Tony Visconti. The album remains more than its title track: social observation, heavy inner trips and tender love songs prevail.
16 VARIOUS ARTISTS
Strain, Crack & Break: Music From The Nurse With Wound List Volume One
Nurse With Wound’s legendary list of outsider music influences, included with their 1979 debut, has become a guide for intrepid record collectors. Now you too could experience the unsettling sound collages of Philippe Besombes, the vivid prog nightmares of Horrific Child and the glorious, full-on wibble of Etron Fou Leloublan. And that’s just the French contingent!
15 THE KINKS
Arthur Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire
Fifty years on, The Kinks’ seventh LP – with its discourses on empire, migration and Englishness – seemed strangely current. Bringing the record further into focus was this deluxe boxset, its most voluminous version featuring Arthur in stereo and mono, a ‘lost’ Dave Davies solo album plus rarities, a book, a badge and four 7”s. Britain may be declining, but Arthur was rejuvenated.
14 NEIL YOUNG
Another tantalising dip into Young’s capacious archives, this time for a live show with the Stray Gators from 1973, recorded early on during the Time Fades Away tour. It’s a fan-friendly set, with faithful renditions of “Heart Of Gold”, “After The Gold Rush” and “Out On The Weekend” alongside fresher material. Rusties will note the presence of drummer Kenny Buttrey – replaced by the harder-hitting Johnny Barbata later in the tour.
13 GENE CLARK
Ex-Byrd, countryrocker, songwriter’s songwriter… Gene Clark was a confusing proposition by the time he pitched up on Asylum records in 1974. If the public heard about this excellent, introspective country-rock album, they certainly didn’t buy it. Now 4AD – historically a mine of singersongwriter expertise – give it the love it deserves: two additional discs of sessions, and (for the deluxe edition) a 7” and heavy booklet.
Emperor Tomato Ketchup
Stereolab’s 2019 return to duty was matched by a welcome batch of reissues. None was quite as timely as Emperor…, a work that held their experimental guitar surge, vocal harmony and elegant electronic pulses in an exquisite balance. Recorded by Tortoise’s John McEntire in Chicago, the album represented a transatlantic meeting of post-rock minds, cemented further when the band took on Slint’s David Pajo as touring bassist.
11 JOHN COLTRANE
‘Lost albums’ are the latest trend in jazz catalogue, and this – following on from last year’s Both Directions At Once – is an honourable addition to the Coltrane canon. Recorded between Crescent and A Love Supreme, in an under-thecounter fashion for Canadian filmmaker Gilles Groulx, the album contains lovely takes of familiar tunes like “Naima” and the moody title track, an original composition.
10 PREFAB SPROUT
I Trawl The Megahertz
Previously issued in 2003 as a Paddy McAloon solo affair, I Trawl The Megahertz has been recast as a ‘lost’ Sprout album – although in truth, it’s unlike anything else in his catalogue. Conceived while McAloon suffered detached retinas that left him almost blind, it’s an elegant study in isolation configured around orch-pop melodies and McAloon’s dreamlike lyrics – inspired by the shortwave radio broadcasts he listened to for solace.
9 VARIOUS ARTISTS
All The Young Droogs
Lovingly curated by (full disclosure!) Uncut’s very own Phil King, this three-CD collection made a convincing case for junkshop glam as much more than a novelty concern. The Stooges, Mott The Hoople and Woody Woodmansey’s U-Boat provided the gateway into a whole subculture of thuggish glitter-rock stomps, proto-punk transgression and dubious lyrics.
8 VARIOUS ARTISTS
Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990
LIGHT IN THE ATTIC
Since 2017, the Seattle label’s Japan Archival Series has been an invaluable resource for curious ears. This 3LP or 2CD anthology was the peak, collecting 25 pieces of blissfully relaxing, otherworldly tones from a host of musicians inspired by Eno’s ambient work and Erik Satie’s idea of “furniture music”.
Love From The Planet Gong: The Virgin Years 1973-75
In just three short years, Daevid Allen’s cosmic collective crafted their Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, fell apart and reinvented themselves as more serious jazzrockers. Across 12 CDs, a DVD and a substantial book, their journey was catalogued here with excellent remasters, studio outtakes and – best of all – a whole flying teapot full of previously unheard live sets.
6 POPUL VUH
The Essential Album Collection Vol 1
A chance to obtain for a reasonable price some of the finest LPs from the most rapturous of all the krautrock bands. Florian Fricke’s outfit are best known for the synthheavy soundtracks they cooked up for Werner Herzog’s films Aguirre and Nosferatu, but the revelation here was 1974’s Einsjäger & Siebenjäger, with Daniel Fichelscher’s questing guitar inspiring the band to rarefied heights.
5 NEW ORDER
Movement: The Definitive Edition
Nobody was making a case for Movement as New Order’s peak, but by rounding up all the demos and live tracks dating back to September 1980 – less than four months after Ian Curtis’s death – this boxset told a fascinating story: of a band confronted with a terrible event and finding an ingenious way forward.
4 BRIAN ENO
Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks – Extended Edition
Many may not have required a reminder of the qualities of Apollo, Eno’s most beautiful, yearning exploration of ambient music. This reissue celebrating 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landings gave us something new, however: a fulllength thematic follow-up reuniting Eno, his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois, who showcased his lovely lap-steel skills on “Capsule”.
3 THE REPLACEMENTS
Dead Man’s Pop
1989’s Don’t Tell A Soul was meant to be The Replacements’ pop breakthrough; the songs were glorious, but its glossy mix divided fans. Finally, here was the album sounding closer to how it did in Paul Westerberg’s head, along with a slew of demos, outtakes and live versions – not to mention a heroically sloshed session with Tom Waits.
2 THE BEATLES
As remixed by Giles Martin, the last Beatles album produced “in the old way” by his father preserved the perfectly sequenced original while remaining mindful of sonic innovations since. Among the additional extras were demo takes of the troublesome “Maxwell” and “the long one” – the triumphant eight-song medley that takes up Side Two.
1 BOB DYLAN
The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings
COLUMBIA RECORDS/LEGACY RECORDINGS
FOR Bobcats fretting over the absence of any new material from Dylan – it’s been seven long years since Tempest – 2019 at least provided some consolation via a rich bounty of archival releases. At No 24 in this poll, you’ll have encountered Travelin’ Thru – but a deeper archeological dig came with The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings, released as a companion piece to Martin Scorsese’s mischievous Netflix documentary. While the film – playing with the real-or-unreal flavour of the tour, inserting mockumentary elements amid the period footage – ostensibly took us behind the scenes on Dylan’s revolutionary charabanc, this expansive boxset takes us deep into the tour itself.
Expanded from 2002’s Bootleg Series Vol 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue, this new set contained three discs of rehearsals, 10 discs of the five shows professionally recorded in their entirety and a final disc of rarities. There are specific highlights that will appeal to fans of Dylan’s fluid relationship with his songs. CD 3, recorded on October 29, 1975 at the Seacrest Motel in Massachusetts, is effectively the Revue’s final dress rehearsal, where several songs are still looking for arrangements, including “Hurricane”, while a version on Disc 13 of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, for instance, has a completely rewritten lyric and a careening new arrangement. Mostly though, this set captures Dylan in motion and clearly enjoying himself.
After a successful but unhappy arena tour with The Band in 1974, the whimsical nature of the Revue’s travelling carnival vibe and the colourful cast of old friends (McGuinn, Baez, Neuwirth) encourages Dylan to engage once more with his songs. There are theatrical performances of “Just Like A Woman”, roadhouse-style versions of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and furious takes on “Isis”. The band – including Mick Ronson – are both loose and tight, adding a kind of drunken lilt to proceedings that’s entirely in keeping with the tour’s chaotic magic. For a year dominated by live archive trawls from Woodstock to the Band Of Gypsys’ Fillmore East shows, Dylan’s The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings feels like a major highlight. As much a vital snapshot of Dylan during his mid-’70s peak, as a sly meditation on quintessentially Dylanesque themes: “what’s real and what is not”.