Best re-issues 2019

Kankyo Ongaku / Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990

By “environmental” they must mean early analog-electro blissful simplicity.  Play around the house, and watch the mood of everything and everybody change.  This is off-world music that makes my pulse slow.  Honestly, the most listened-to-thing this year…

 

The Fall / Bend Sinister 

The last of the second-great-age reissues.  Dark, even for the Fall, their precision on near near-mechanical display here.  “Living Too Late” and “U.S. 80’s – 90‘s” perfectly capture the collective ennui of 1986, plus a personal fave keeps announcing “it’s M.E.S. in shoulder pads...”

 

Haruomi Hosono / Philharmony

Another added bonus of the Kankyo Ongaku compilation, was the side trips into the work of Hosono (and even better the first few Yellow Magic Orchestra albums).   This gem from 1982 might be the best place to start.  Sort of another side of Another Green World, or perhaps a kinder Kraftwerk, or more wild Cluster, it features Sports Menwhich is a super great pop song I played way too much in the car….

Indian Summer/Giving  Birth  to  Thunder

I had one 45 in the early 90’s by these guys, and that was I all I knew.  Numero fleshes out the rest of the (albeit way too brief) story with this reissue collecting all their recordings.  Technically emo (but still rooted in hardcore math rock intensity) they couldn’t have lasted too long running this hot…

 

Jobcentre Rejects: Ultra Rare NWOBHM 1980​-​1985

Under the radar garage, metal and punk from England 1978-82.  Imagine the version of Iron Maiden that didn’t get famous.  For all the parking-lot-donut-do-ers in cut-off denim vests, these are songs to crush a beer to.

 

Prince / 1999

Forgot about nasty-electro Prince.  I always liked the weird, longer songs that fill out the second side (after the three greatest pop singles ever).  The extra stuff is all great and copious, but the best part is remembering how fresh the future sounded in the past.

 

Various Artists : Sad About the Times

Why compilations were invented.  70’s singer songwriter stuff, which I know, doesn’t sound like something the world really needs more of, BUT this collection of mellow AM gems is cherry-picked for utterly maximum effect.  Listen to “Absolute Zero” and tell me you don’t need this in your life : !?

 

Stereolab / Warner re-issues (all of them!)

(Okay, technically: Transient Random Noise-Bursts With Announcements, Mars Audiac Quintet, Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Dots and Loops, Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, Sound-Dust, Margerine Eclipse.)  I still maintain that consistency can be a bands’ worst enemy, because the listener forgets how great the whole picture is without defined highs and lows.  The Warner Stereolab albums certainly fall into this category.  I know I heard them all when they came out, but they sound so fresh and current now.  The best part (besides super b-sides) are demo versions!

 

 

 

 

 

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Best new music 2019

Deerhunter/Why  Hasn’t  Everything Already  Disappeared?

Ah, dearest Deerhunter…every few years (or other album) really strikes me repeatedly and differently.  Avant-garde tendencies couched in baroque, intricate melodies, this is lush and deep.  In my bizarro world of pop: “Element” is the single of year.


Purple Mountains 

Didn’t we just do this with another David?  While I appreciate the endless torrents of reckless speculation, the fact is: few get an “exit” album.  What guts me the most is knowing that we won’t get any more Berman surprises, his acerbic melancholy being among the best ever.  You can’t tell me someone who writes this doesn’t belong to us all:

Songs build little rooms in time
And housed within the song’s design
Is the ghost the host has left behind
To greet and sweep the guest inside
Stoke the fire and sing his lines

 

Fumaca Preta / Pepas 

As close as you’re gonna get to a current Os Mutantes.  Anybody can make psychotic psychedelic music, but to imbue it with such spirit…I’m curious to acquaint myself with more of their discography.

 

Various Artists : London to Addis

Of all the sub-genres I randomly intersect with, I was not expecting “Ethiopian Grime Instrumentals” to be such a favorite.  Admittedly a bit outside my wheelhouse, what really impresses me about these combo-beats is the very seismic and intense way they are recorded.  Hyper-dub flute instrumentals, subwoofer assault, it’s all here….

 

Les Filles De Illighadad / Eghass Malan

The Tuareg story gets wider and brighter.  When people tell me they don’t hear any interesting guitar music anymore I ask if they are paying attention to Africa?  Also, of note, these folks put on the best show I have seen in many years recently.  Utterly transcendental, real communion on both sides.  Look them up if they return…

 

Empath / Active Listening : Night On Earth

Individualism is a strange adjective to apply to a group, but (IMO) nobody sounds like this, ever.  I guess this is technically punk music, but the song structures, instrumentation and recording techniques render it a most glorious star in a galaxy of music.  (Think Unwound/Breeders/Suicide ) Stronky sounds played with wild abandon.

 

Justin Hopper and Sharron Klaus / Chanctonbury Rings

Whoa, the best surprise for me personally.  Ok, this is technically a “spoken word” album about the author’s “poetical, autobiographical and psychogeographical account of his experiences at Chanctonbury Ring on the West Sussex Downs.”  Imagine Fox Mulder explaining out-of-body experiences and haunted lore to the soundscapes of old Albion.

 

Guided By Voices / Sweating the Plague

Technically, the third album they put out this year (including a double).  I admit, some of this placing is the sheer recognition that no matter what anyone wants, Pollard will continue with his output.  And why shouldn’t he, all three albums were great, the consistency is there, mortal listeners just can’t process it all…..

 

 

 

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Best Re-issue (not new) Music 2018

 

Various Artists / Basement Beehive

My jones for the Numero label soul compilations is well-documented here.  However, this set is a step above: 2 discs of private-press girl groups.  Garage rock, soul divas, big-haired songs about romantic gloom.  It’s another alternate history of common experience that Numero does so well….

 

 

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Michael Nesmith & First National Band / Re-issues

(Technically Magnetic South, Loose Salute, Nevada Fighter, Tantamount to Treason, And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, 1970-73.)  After the Monkees, Nesmith assembled his own cosmic country band, and made these strange and surprisingly singable records.

 

 

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Various Artists / Gumba Fire : Bubblegum Soul & Synth-Bogies in 1980s South Africa

Given the era of this music, this should not be as ridiculously fun as is it.  Proof again that any style trans-mutated back through Africa, yields unique, infectious, mutant-synth results.  Like an electro-psychadelic Cameo.

 

 

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Erasmo Carlos / Sonhos e Memorias 1941.1972

Brazilian uber-star that I’d never heard of.  Psychedelic, but tight and sonically awe-inspiring.  Imagine the Zombies funneled through Os Mutantes, with a touch of space-baroque…..?

 

 

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Asnakech Worku

Came to this via my Hailu Mergia fascincation (he plays keyboards), but stayed for the completely other-world vocal style of Asnakech Worku.  Recorded in Ethiopia in 1975, you could tell me this was recorded yesterday on one of Jupiter’s moons and I’d believe you.

 

 

Neil Young- Roxy - Tonight%u2019s the Night Live [reissue]

Neil Young / Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live

Ragged and glorious prime-era Neil.  What’s really interesting is how less dour this version sounds than the record.  Funny how alcohol can go both ways : )

 

 

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Mark Renner / Few Traces

The worst 80’s productions sound dated and uninspired, a lame thud your ears recognize immediately.  Renner plays with the ambient spaces that the 8o’s soundscape mostly ignored.  Great catchy songs and quiet, atmospheric production.  Imagine Another Green World but with a Baltimore lens.

 

 

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Rosinha De Valenca / Um Violao em Primeiro Plano

More Brazillian badassery.  This flat-out ripper from 1971, features my second favorite version of “Summertime” as well as “Concierto de Aranjuez” (Sketches of Spain fans, take note).  One of the best random discoveries of the year for me.

 

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Best New Music 2018

 

Julia Holter / Aviary

Honestly, I haven’t even processed all this record yet.  One of the most ambitious things I’ve ever heard.  Ever.  Headphones, time, and patience are required, but the rewards seem endless.

 

 

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Cardi B / Invasion of Privacy

For me, great rappers are about vocal tone.  Think of Rakin, Chuck D, etc.  It is the timbre of their voices that give it that power.  Cardi has that voice for me, it sounds about as real as you can get.  Couple that with the insane shit she says, and I can see how even Entertainment Weekly picked this as top of the year.

 

 

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Upper Wilds / Guitar Module 2017

Ah yes a guitar-based record to keep things grounded.  Except, Upper Wilds record everything peaked out to the max.  It makes for a radical sound, that keeps surprising me at every listen.

 

 

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Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore / Ghost Forests

Delicate and strong at the same time.  Sometimes twee, sometimes lush, I’m not even sure I hear the English language in there sometimes.  Only 6 songs, but feels like much, much more.

 

John Prine Tree of Forgiveness

John Prine / The Tree of Forgiveness

This man is a national treasure.  Looks like he sounds.  Some amazingly simple songs, with covert slices of pure truth inserted.  The title cut may be his best yet as he looks forwarding to smoking a “nine-mile cigarette” in heaven…

 

 

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Sleep / The Sciences

Space, volume and weed are the main components here.  Pike and company certainly don’t overthink anything here, and that’s why it sounds so perfect.  I listened to this every morning at work really loud for about 3 weeks, and feel like a better human for it…

 

 

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Eleanor Friedberger / Rebound

Way subtle and all keyboards, this slow-burner slowing wormed its way into my heart, and stayed put for most of the year.

 

 

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Iceage / Beyondless

Never what you think they’re gonna be, but always surpassing expectations.  It growls but not via pure distortion.  Horns, piano, etc flesh out this dizzying and intoxicating slab of aural excitement.  The risks keep paying off for these guys…

 

 

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Best Reissues 2017

 

Neil Young / Hitchhiker

Stoned, 70’s-prime Neil just blowing off 10 songs into a recorder.  As an animal this is Neil’s natural habitat, and the ease at which he rattles off classics and unheard songs is incredible.

 

Can / The Singles

For me, Can has always been about the monolith albums in their often-long and cosmically  extended form.  This compilation is the re-definition of a band, as a singles machine, and an incredible one at that.  An alternate history if you will, where Can acts more like Booker T. and the MG’s than Yes.

 

Various Artists / Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-84

Funk and disco work their way into the musical lexicon of Cameroon.  The joy is in the transmutation process, as western musical styles collide with the deep musical lineage of Africa.  Extended grooves with exceptional base action, at times this reminds me of the band listed above..

 

Circus Devils / Laughs Best

Unbeknown to most everyone, the best band Robert Pollard has been in for the last 10 years was Circus Devils.  Basically the King-Crimson-esque-catch-all for any and all weird musical ideas generated by Bob and orchestrated by the Tobias brothers.  As well as releasing their final album this year, they released this one-disc best-of that will leave you asking: “where have I been for all of their records ?!?”

 

Gal Costa / India

From 1973, Gal weathers the post-Tropicalia diaspora with dense tracks and covers.  Imagine an early 70’s Stevie Wonder album but with Brazilian rhythms and instrumentation.  Fascinating, lush and other-worldly.

 

The Replacements / For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s 1986

There’s a wonderful part in the notes where the soundman says the secret to getting a great ‘Mats live recording is to: “not let them know they’re being recorded.”  I’m guessing nobody told them about this (maybe why it was shelved for thirty years).  Ragged, glorious and oh-so-human, the impeccable set list covers their early Twintone stuff as well.

 

Lal and Mike Waterson / Bright Phoebus

The old weird Britain.  The Waterson siblings voices might be an acquired taste, but anyone who likes their folk music ancient, strange and exuberant should make haste to hear this anomaly from 1972.

 

Native Meets Lee Scratch Perry / Black Art Showcase 1977

If Perry and his Black Ark Dub World are a universe to explore, then this was a planet I didn’t know existed.  Not roots so much as a truly psychedelic, almost garage-reggae album.

 

Various Artists / Acid Nightmares

Why compilations were invented.  Listening to every one of these midwest sludge-rock, early 70’s stoner jams in full album form would probably drive you over the edge, BUT by picking only the choicest cuts from this stable of semi-satanic doomsayer, you instead get one of the greatest heavy comps known to humankind.

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Best new music 2017

Julie Byrne / Not Even Happiness

These songs contain the perfect combination of elements to slowly floor me every single time I hear them.  This music sounds woody, aged and resonant.  Probably the album I listened to the most this year…

 

The Magnetic Fields / 50 Song Memoir

As you can imagine, the range of humor, honesty and song quality vary greatly here, but the sum is soooo much more than the parts.  A couple stone-cold Merritt classics here as well: Cold Blooded Man, Killin’ Children Over There, or the staggering; I Wish I Had Pictures.  (Can’t wait for say….75 Song Memoir?)

 

Jane Weaver / Modern Kosmology

Vintage synth sound with hints of the kosmiche, this is her best of a rather incredible output over the last few years.  Space-age-bachelorette-pad-music.

 

Kendrick Lamar / Damn

Succinct and ever-so-timely, Kendrick has a chill (both in style and voice) that comes across as effortless.  Solid from top to bottom (except the turrrible song with U2, that, at least proves he’s nice to old people.)

 

Slowdive / Slowdive

Reunion albums can be such a mixed bag, but Slowdive prove that if the basic elements are still fully functioning, things just continue as beautifully as before.  Nothing very elaborate but as subtly sonically overwhelming as ever.

 

Rat Columns / Candle Power

Low-fi pop perfection from Down Under.  The range of instrumentation and lovely musical reserve make this an exploration of texture as well as economy.  This makes the list simply because, for me, it captures the same kind of magic as the first few Pixies albums.

 

Protomartyr / Relatives in Descent

I never thought I’d need to look up so many words for an album.  Vernacular wordsmith devastation over the most interesting of not-quite-hardcore arrangements.  Math rock with semiotic lyrics.

 

Ryuichi Sakamoto / async

A whiff of vocals here, a glitch of electronic color here, this record is particularly difficult to describe.  Coming off a throat cancer scare, Ryuichi keeps it simple with meditative mini-blasts and semi-symphonic pieces.  Minimal but powerful.

 

sza / cntrl

I understand that I’m not the target demographic for this album, but sza has a confessional freshness here that sounds so alive and current, a more humane R&B perhaps.  Also the best song about lady anatomy I’ve heard…

 

Peaking Lights / The Fifth State of Consciousness

Dub-pop is the closest adjective I can find for this kind of music.  I just pretend that these swirling, bottomless electro songs of the heart are the real top 40, and the music I hear on the radio doesn’t really exist…

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Best Reissues 2016

homepage_large-6c37139aBig Star / Complete Third

More mythos undone.  Three versions of everything: demo, rough, finished.  This album has always been portrayed as a sort-of-flung-together album, but hearing these songs in earlier forms really showcases the strength of Chilton’s songwriting.  Does it help if you’ve lived with the original for years: yes – but don’t sleep on my fave Big Star for that reason…

afterschool-special-the-123s-of-kid-soul-1Afterschoool Special: the 123’s of Kid Soul

The first volume from 9 years ago had me hooked on these lost cuts from Jackson 5 inspired children soulsters.  Few you’ve ever heard of, but it matters little.  “We Don’t Dig No Busin‘” , “Running Wild (Ain’t Gonna Help You)” and “I’m Free No Dope For Me” are all standouts.  As is a kid version of Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”  where they’re rappin’ sooo fast to get all the lyrics in.

71atjbeo-l-_sl1200_Sandy Denny / I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn

Sandy demos with mainly just guitar and her voice.  Of all her under-rated glories these are my favorites.  Two of my most favorite songs ever grace this compilation: “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” and “By the Time it Gets Dark“.  Know thy titans.

cs615461-01a-bigThe Aggrovators / Dubbing at King Tubby’s

The base root of dub.  I’m sure they never dreamed their low-fi operation would produce a style and sound that (for me) works with everything.  Tubby, Jammy, Scientist all make mixing appearances, in this most sacred of musical locations.

5026328503455_t28668099960054Betty Harris / The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul

Many soul compilations break down to a familiar ratio: 30% great; 30% better-than-average; 40% okay.  Massive props to the compiler of this overlooked 60’s soul siren because it is ALL KILLER  no filler.

mi0000599962Terry Allen / Lubbock (On Everything)

Hillbilly poet/artist Terry Allen falls into the singer-songwriter category, but that almost feels like a diss because these songs are so easy and true.  One of those records where you’ll laugh and say: “he’s totally right” after every great lyric.  “The Most Beautiful Waitress” is also a contender for song of the year (plus I got my new life mantra from this record: “My Ego Ain’t My Amigo“).

600x600Labelle / Nightbirds

Not technically a reissue, but I heard this for the first time this year, and I have not been the same.  Labelle was a MACHINE in 1974, I have not heard a band as infectious, tight and overwhelmingly amazing as this for many moons.  “Space Children“, “All Girl Band“, “Are You Lonely?”, : constant, permanent, repeat…

5026328403342_t27187905080054BoomBox 1 / Early Independent Hip-Hop, Electro and Disco Rap 1979-82

Two discs of 6-9 minute party raps may sound a bit redundant, but it’s the spirit of this era that really shines through.  A tad monochromatic in execution, but anyone who doesn’t know the sound of early block-party hip hop should hear and recognize the genesis contained within.

51rgq7aax5lThe Shaggs / Philosophy of the World

Okay, technically you only need to hear this once, but it warms my black heart that this New Hampshire sister trio gets reissued.  Sloppy, maddening, and irresistible.  At this particular juncture in the history of America, this record reminds me that we’re all a part of something, and every voice counts…

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Best new music 2016

indexA Tribe Called Quest / We Got it From Here

What a way to go out!  Rap often has the benefit (sometimes hinderance) of currency, but i can’t remember a record that hit so perfectly at the exact right time.  The sound of the past, present and future…

david-bowie-blackstar-2016-billboard-1000David Bowie / Blackstar

A spectacular cultural coup.  Not only does Bowie make one of his best albums of the last 15 years, but he controls his exodus with a final statement that is both devastating and life-affirming.  Who else could have pulled off such a succinct final act?….oh yeah….

lc_youwantitdarker_coverartLeonard Cohen / You Want it Darker

I will truly miss hearing what this voice has to say.  Sparse, deep, honest and solemn.  Very simple production, but on par with 80’s masterpieces such as I’m Your Man.  Adios, L. Cohen, your shadow will linger on.

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The Wedding Present / Going… Going..

At this phase in their career, to make a sprawling, epic, style-switching album of this magnitude seems too good to be true.  It’s not; it’s some of the most rewarding music they have ever made.  It’s always great to hear what you never imagined.

crab-dayCate Le Bon / Crab Days

Cate switches it up again.  For a vague reference, imagine Nico fronting the Sugarcubes.  I wonder how this all holds together sometime, but I still remain enthralled.

gbx025-stasis-cover-artwork-1400-coverPye Corner Audio / Stasis

I have been steadily enjoying this band for many years.  Soundtrack for my daily dream world.  A great album to start and end a day with.

lc2e1bbWolf People / Ruins

Rippin’ boogie rawk, slightly prog-ish lyrics, the BEST drum sound I have heard all year, plus glorious cover art, need I continue…

6283828The Low Anthem / Eyeland

Stretching out cosmically, the Low Anthem continue their run of wonderfully organic sounds and mystical ruminations. “Pepsi Moon” is a runner-up for best song of the year.

imagesThe High Llams / Here Come the Rattling Trees

A blissful soundtrack about riding your bike around, and other simple pleasure.  The music, lyrics and mood all match perfectly.  Their toned-down best?  Perhaps…

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Best New Music 2015

(No real order, but most of these were played far more than plenty…)

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Moon Duo / Shadow of the Sun

Moon Duo kinda just do one particular thing, but they do it sooooo good.

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Tame Impala / Currents

Gone are the guitar hysterics and instead we get the most-produced, sing-alongable album of the summer.  Three words: headphones, headphones, headphones.

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Esme Patteron / Woman to Woman

Glorious surprise of “answer” songs to guy-centered famous lady songs and that’s just the hook to get you in.  Impeccable guitar playing and songwriting, but best of all; Esme sounds like she’s having a whole lotta fun…

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Laurie Anderson / Heart of a Dog Soundtrack

I guess I should probably see this movie because I’m moved by the soundtrack nearly everyday.  Meditations on the dignity of death, whether it be her mom, her dog, or Lou.  I always associated Laurie with her avante-gardey kind of 80’s stuff.  This is just someone telling you something you need to hear.  Beautiful beyond belief.

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Circus Devils / Stomping Grounds

Gotta have some Pollard right?  He had solo albums as well as the Ricked Wicky thing this year, but the Devils are the best.  Completely un-classifiable without being too weird to process.  Not an easy thing to do…

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Protomarytr / The Agent Intellect

We may someday reach a point where math-rock (or whatever you want to call it) simply exhausts all the tricks it can do.  Protomarytr re-affirm a genre previously lost to me.  Also, if you know someone named Stephen, they should buy this album and play Feast of Stephen really loud.

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Sufjan Stevens / Carrie & Lowell

This guy always seemed a little too clever for me.  He strips away all the ironic name-dropping literation-based shit and just makes a heartbreakingly lovely album about his mom.  This record has consistently floored more than all the others this year.

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Taco Jon’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1

Full disclosure: Taco’s a friend of mine.  He’s somehow channeled an entire orchestra and big band to make songs about banana hammocks, nachos and drugs.  Humorous at times, sure, but then other times, I listen to a song like “Better Lovin” and think this guy is the Burt Bacharach of our time.

 

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Best Reissues 2015

(older stuff where they’ve turned the bass up and charged me twice…)

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Punk 45 / Burn Rubber City, Burn!

Man this series is fun!  Half of this stuff you might know and other half is ultra-obscure wackiness.  Micro-blasts that remind you why the weirdest state has the best output.

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Mamman Sani Abdoulaye / Unreleased Tapes 1981-1984

Highly bubbly, non-digital synthesizers from Africa.  I listen to this every morning.

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Unwound / Empire

The great recorded output of Unwound comes to an end.  This comp features the double album Leaves Turn Inside You, as well as Challenge for a Civilized Society.  Proof that Numero can reissue any genre well.

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The Flaming Lips / Heady Nuggs 1994-1997

I’m gonna be honest, my old CD sounds better than this remaster.  However, this the pinnacle of the Flips for me (Clouds Taste Metallic).  Their last guitar-oriented, distorted, BAND-driven album.  Not that what happened after this was bad (it was VERY good), but this is the Flips I hear in my head.

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Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten Soundtrack

Cambodian rock in the late 60’s-early 70’s is a glorious music.  It’s instantly dance-able, super funky, and phonetically fascinating to me.  SEE THIS DOCUMENTARY, when you get the full story of the implications that the war in Vietnam (and the U.S.) played, ……damn.  Inspiring stuff.

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Willie Nelson / It Will Come to Pass

Okay, this technically came out last year, but it’s new to me.  Willie rules, this is known.  What’s not known is how wildly varied his early RCA output is.  It can be kind of messy, and we can thank the great Omni Records for cherry-picking some of the best bits here.  Wacky, saccharine, and yes: metaphysical.

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Led Zepplin / Physical Graffiti

Being from Kansas City, I though I’d never need to hear this album again.  How wrong I was.  Most double albums are unnecessary, but not this.  Everything in its right place.

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Bob Dylan / 1965-1966

Two discs of alternate versions from the best, most-frenetic Dylan era known, is fine with me.  Also amazing that they sell a 6 and 18!!! disc version of this thing.  “I need a dumptruck, baby, to unload my head!

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