The Best of 2006: Reissues, Collections, and Compilations
ot to get all rockist about it, but reissues and compilations make us uncomfortable. When it comes to year-end lists, that is. Don’t get us wrong. 364 days a year, we love ‘em. But when we’re asked to construct The List, we start to sweat. Do these things count? How can I say my top albums of 2006 consist solely of music not originally released this year? It’s terrible. Pity us.
Chavez - Better Days Will Haunt You
“If the conventional system—a single, an album, another single, another album—didn’t get this band lasting fame, then Better Days Will Haunt You should; it might indeed be best to forget about the old divisions and listen to this as a single record. A single record about noise, tumult, sound, and fury, but most of all about gentleness, calm, and subtlety. And a very good record besides.”
Delta 5 - Singles and Sessions 1979-81
Kill Rock Stars
“They may not have translated this exuberance into the idyllic several-album career that you might think they deserved, but for a short while the Delta 5 embodied the promise of the post-punk ideal to the full, and this is about as good a document of it as you could ask for.”
Electrelane - Singles, B-Sides & Live
Brighton’s favorite literate, all-female, Albini-engineered, (formerly) instrumental rock quartet didn’t manage to record a fourth studio album in 2006, having released the excellent The Power Out in 2004 and the extraordinary Axes in 2005 after their debut Rock it to the Moon in 2002, but they did bless us with this imaginatively titled compilation that neatly wrapped up the early and hard-to-find parts of their discography in one easy-to-find package. The really early stuff is gauche but charming, but by the time we get to tracks from the superlative I Want to Be the President EP and “Long Dark,” things are really firing. A cheekily abstract live cover of “More Than This” shows the girls’ sense of humor. A new album, recorded in Berlin, is due next year—expect it to start making big-time waves.
Missy Elliott – Respect M.E.
Curse Atlantic for inexplicably not releasing this in the U.S., but shell out for the import anyway. I’ve told friends for years that “Missy’ll finally make a truly great album when she releases a hits record,” and at last, she has. You certainly can’t quibble with the results—all the hits are here, and what glorious hits they are. This is the best argument yet for Missy as one of the most important hip-hop artists of the past decade, from “Get Ur Freak On” to “Work It” to “Beep Me 911” (with some sick Timbo production) to “We Run This.” Her guests all acquit themselves nicely, including Ciara, Da Brat (greatest guest rapper ever?), and Ludacris (twice), but Missy’s always the star here. She’s meant to be a star. She’s earned it and she deserves it. These 17 tracks show and prove, so back up.
Laurent Garnier – Retrospective
Consistently underrated (anti-French sentiment, anyone?) but never less than vital and influential, French DJ/producer Laurent Garnier has built an impressive body of work over his 14-year career, neatly covered here across two discs. Classics like “Crispy Bacon,” “Astral Dreams,” the Carl Craig collaboration “Demented,” “Acid Eiffel,” and “The Man With the Red Face” (the latter pair presented here as live recordings with Bugge Wesseltoft) mingle with a handful of remixes (both of and by Garnier), unreleased tracks, and previously vinyl-only material highlight Garnier’s Detroit-influenced style that always goes down smooth, but with enough rough edges to keep things interesting. The Detroit-Berlin axis has long been pointed to as the main connection between American and European techno—perhaps a side trip to Paris is in order.
Josef K. - Entomology
“Entomology curates the Josef K story with the kind of lover's touch that should grace all such collections of under-appreciated bands. Culling from both LPs, it's dotted with single versions, b-sides, and a concluding trio of Peel Sessions. Which is to say: it feels more like a fine novel than a work of reference (the fault of far too many similarly well-intentioned compilations).”
Stephanie Mills – Gold
She’s got a voice of pure spun gold, and this at-long-last definitive collection of her work proves it. Mills has been the subject of no less than 7 major-label collections before this one, but Gold marries her 20th Century, Casablanca, and MCA catalogs and shows her career as something special indeed, starting with 1979’s “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin’” and progressing up through 1992. Mills started out cutting hot disco tracks such as “You Can Get Over” and “Put Your Body in It” (a favorite of the late Larry Levan), but as she showed on Broadway in The Wiz (where she originated the role of Dorothy), she’s just as adept at show-stopping ballads like “Feel the Fire” and the smoldering “Night Games.” 1981’s duet with Teddy Pendergrass—now there’s a pair of singers—on “Two Hearts” is a highlight, offered here in its classic 12” version (as is the next year’s delectable “You Can’t Run From My Love”). After a mid-’80s chart nadir she rebounded strongly with R&B; smashes such as the towering “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love” and “Something in the Way (You Make Me Feel),” and every classic hit is here (along with a few lesser numbers easily skipped). Essential for students of ’80s R&B.;
Nitzer Ebb – Body of Work 1984-1997
British pioneers of the Electronic Body Music scene of the early-to-mid 1980s Nitzer Ebb were in danger of sinking into the “remember them…?” file, but this two-disc comp of their finest moments and the successful accompanying worldwide tour has shown that there’s still an audience for their brand of sinister industrialist techno. Influential on everyone from Richie Hawtin to Nine Inch Nails, the Ebb were far more than just angry men shouting repetitive slogans over stripped-down, aggro synth riffs (although there was plenty of that too), and Body shows that for every pounding, relentless “Murderous” and “Join in the Chant,” there was the clarinet riffage of “Lightning Man” and the funkified George Clinton remix of “Fun to Be Had,” ripe for rediscovery. The accompanying disc of period remixes—a separate album of modern updates, Body Rework, was also issued—show that menace, paranoia, and dancing are indeed a winning combination.
R.E.M. – And I Feel Fine: The Best of the I.R.S. Years: 1982-1987
Capitol / I.R.S.
As a final rebuke to their remaining fans, the Buck-Mills-Stipe Brain Trust lead this compilation with “Begin the Begin,” the uncomplicated, plaintive salvo tagged by Peter Buck’s reverbed guitar and the clattering drums of the dearly departed Bill Berry. Those were the days when R.E.M. could talk about the passion instead of preserving it in vaporous electronic amber. As “Driver 8” follows “So. Central Rain” and “Life and How to Live It” underscores the arpeggiated homilies of “I Believe,” this expertly sequenced compilation offers no revelations, only reminders. This was a band that mined loss in mumbled abstractions, and manifestos in myths as ungainly as kudzu—all with a shambling grace their wallflower descendants never sought. This was stardom, and how to earn it.
Tortoise – A Lazarus Taxon
“Others might tell you that 1996’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die is the definitive Tortoise recording, but I’ll stand by A Lazarus Taxon as an introduction, as the set perfectly illustrates exactly what was and is so magic about the band…”
Tom Waits - Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards
“Tom Waits three disc collection Orphans closes, seemingly inevitably, with a shaggy dog story involving a can of tuna fish, a fake mother, a tussle in a parking lot, and the sound of Waits’ rusted, asthmatic laugh. The laugh of someone getting away with something big.”
Califone – Roomsound
The Califone of 2001 was not markedly different than the Califone of 2006—born of Sub Pop’s Red Red Meat, Tim Rutili and company completely bypassed their young ‘n’ full-of-shit rock phase. The band’s debut full-length, Roomsound, moves away from the beat science of two preceding EPs and dives full-bore into the band’s obtuse mysticism, part of which was born into Perishable’s beautiful die-cut packaging, which folded out into a red-clay steeple. Thrill Jockey’s release skips the fancy threads but delivers the album intact. Producer Brian Deck has fried bigger fish since (see: Modest Mouse), but Roomsound remains one of his crowning achievements—the murk sounds deliberate, and never totally swallows the band’s clever arrangements. A more homogenous, gutty effort than this year’s exquisite Roots & Crowns, Roomsound is a live birth, a messy, moving beginning.
Karen Dalton – In My Own Time
Light in the Attic
On her second album, from 1971, Karen Dalton figured out how to sing precisely like a very sick bird. But hey, it worked; Bob Dylan called the Oklahoma transplant one of his favorite vocalists, and the next time you want to blame someone for the creak in CocoRosie or Devendra Banhart, you can go desecrate Dalton’s grave if you can find it. It’s folk music, I guess, but Dalton functions like a blues singer—In My Own Time rides on her charisma and interpretive style (she only recorded covers). If the Band didn’t have such hairy balls or the Velvet Underground kept their shit together to learn another chord and tune their guitars, either one could’ve backed her. Depending on your lifestyle, it’s slow, smiling music for when you’re stoned to the point of staring into the great void of the universe or Sunday drive music or music for your morning coffee or tickle-tickle kiss-kiss music for your back porch. How, you ask? Well, Dalton probably did all that crap at the same time.
Denim – Back In Denim
“As about turns go Back in Denim gives even Metal Machine Music a run for its money. Lawrence billed the outfit as “novelty protest” and with their near-perfect marriage of pointed pastiche and socio-political comment it’s as apt a summation of his new metier as one could hope for.”
Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Live and Let Die
No one’s accusing anyone of being a new jack here; although Kool G Rap may have pioneered hip-hop-as-La Cosa Nostra, I got some dusty copies of Smile and Modern Times telling me that appeals to a listener’s sense of obligation don’t make for a very effective sales pitch. But if it takes the re-up of Kool G Rap and DJ Polo at the peak of their powers in order for you to hear them for the first time outside of an UNKLE CD, you’ll likely look more fondly upon the release slate of 2006. You already know the type that considers this a classic, but it gets lost amidst more fondly remembered groups of the time like Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, The Native Tongues, and N.W.A. due to their only real agenda being raw rhymes and rugged beats that still knock after a decade-and-a-half. Not only highly recommended to aficionados of NYC hip-hop, but the crime rhymes, lascivious sex talk, and compelling psychodrama should ring familiar to anyone who grew up on the Geto Boys as well.
Mighty Baby – A Jug of Love
“Whereas many psychedelic obscurities merely offer more localized explorations of the new grounds broken by more prominent contemporaries, A Jug of Love stumbles into a unique, rarefied headspace.”
Fred Neil – Fred Neil
Fred Neil was a moody, deadpan folksinger best known for writing “Everybody’s Talkin’,” a song made famous by legendary drunk Harry Nilsson on the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy. Or, the song is what allowed him to get his ass out of the mid-’60s Greenwich Village scene and back to Florida to relax for thirty years and then pass, gently, away. Anyway, “Everybody’s Talkin’” is on his second album, Fred Neil, as are other hazy, bittersweet songs about dolphins and cocaine. He slowed things down and added some flange guitar, two bald, shameless appeals to people who enjoy staring out windows and occasionally sighing. Neil’s best asset is his voice, though—a droopy baritone that manages to be warm without being friendly and weird without being forbidding. A little bit like a woozier Leonard Cohen if he wasn’t so preoccupied with getting snatch and writing important poetry. It’s a meditation thing, which is what Neil, who sometimes wore sunglasses, was all about. Beautiful stuff.
Pavement – Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinels Edition
“Wowee Zowee is not without its faults, but it’s a delightful artifact. Sordid Sentinels excavates it and enhances it. Simply put, it's the reissue of the year, the third time that Pavement can flaunt such a claim.”
Sebadoh – III
“III was an omnipresent excuse to cut class, quit a go-nowhere job, chase some psilocybin with a quart of gin and tonics, set some shit on fire.”
The Sisters of Mercy - Floodland
“If you ever walked in the shadows with your head held high, if you ever entertained thoughts of murder or suicide, if you perhaps suspected everything might not quite be so peachy keen about this here human existence, this album is your proverbial huckleberry.”
This Heat – Out of Cold Storage
“This is music made by people slowly reaching the point where they can’t take any more, people who were making themselves ill whilst trying to get away from what Hayward calls an “ill health aesthetic,” but this is also music of joy and energy, some of the most energizing and exciting and beautiful ever recorded.”
ZZ Top – Tres Hombres / Fandango!
It’s not necessarily that Tres Hombres was reissued this year with bonus live material; it’s that Tres Hombres was remastered, giving the soft and unfocused initial recording job a tight sheen. Frank Beard’s snare cracks; his cymbals sizzle. Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons’s voices and bass and guitar throb and pulse and climb, sounding as dirty and as fun as a daytime drunk spent dancing and boozing in the darkest, dankest roadside dive. All of Gibbons’s guitar lines sound like they’ve been thought about five ways to Sunday. The result? The perfect fuckin’ riff; strums that hold pleasure and pain and a whole lot in between within their deceptively simplistic construction. Considering that the Top has now lapsed into self-parody, this 1973 recording serves as a reminder that while musos were getting all hippy-dippy, the Top was fine and dandy huddled under the hood of a Chevy, swilling Lone Star and sucking on pan-seared Serranos. All the classics remain: “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “Waitin’ for the Bus,” and “La Grange.” And the latter three are given the live treatment, tacked on at the end of a nearly perfect program. This is real Southern Rock; the kind of music that takes no truck with needless pretension: A bird in hand is always worth two in the bush.
And how does one follow-up Tres Hombres? With white-knuckled, beer-and-amphetamine-addled rock. “Thunderbird” offered Athens, Georgia’s Harvey Milk the template, and scared off contemporary tin-eared imitators with bowed chests and spat bravado. “Backdoor Medley…” marries coked up auctioneer babble with greasy guitar and oom-pah snare and kickdrum. Like its predecessor, everything’s remastered. Tunes that previously suffered are given second leases, especially “Balinese,” “Tush,” and “Heard it on the X.” Beard’s drums, before just dull thuds, make powerful contributions on the aforementioned tracks, showing him to be not only the pendulum of the group, but also an indispensable colorist. Additional live tracks, “Jailhouse Rock,” “Heard it on the X,” and “Tush” are all great, especially the latter, which kicks off with massive crowd roar and ambles in to place: beat, riff, and the rough and gruff of Gibbons and Hill’s vocals makes this a homogenous beast, about as close to “organic” as Southern Rock has ever come, pace Skynrd.
Various Artists - Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal
“However it came about, the music is stunning: flighty funk infused with gospel’s call and response energy, jams truncated to praise-worthy lengths.”
Various Artists - Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story
“Larry Levan, Paradise Garage’s premier DJ, understood that his largely gay black fans in large part lived private lives which mirrored the anonymity that Journey Into Paradise’s tracks projected. Journey Into Paradise documents this communal release.”
Various Artists – London Is the Place for Me, Vols. 3 & 4
Calypso music: ’hood before hood, lightly miscegenated before we cherished the concept, and some of the most woefully undervalued music around. Why? Well, part of it might be the fact that it doesn’t nestle into the “world music” market, but banks on a bright kind of Otherness. Most of these guys where Ghanaian, Trinidadian, or—in the case of Ambrose Adekoya Campbell, to whom all of Volume 3 is devoted—Nigerian, and setting up shop in London between the ’40s and ’60s. It’s not that it’s exotic, exactly; on the first volume in the series (which is also excellent), there were songs about watching the Queen’s procession, how cricket worked, and the finer points of London’s sprawl—precisely the kind of shit Londoners probably never bothered to even notice, let alone sing about without all that storied, naughty British cynicism, but stuff an African ex-pat would’ve been quick to celebrate. And the music? Cha-cha rhythms—themselves a bastard of Congo and Cuba—collide with jazzy horns and a strong pop sensibility. Cultural reportage you could dance to a couple decades before Sly and Fela. If you’re not in the UK, the price might look prohibitive. Close your eyes, bite your lip, and buy the whole damn set.
Various Artists - Soul Sides Volume One
“Without selecting a true "classic," Oliver Wang manages to fill up 45 minutes with music that feels essential, if not to music historians than to soul-agitated fans. Here's hoping this disc is the first in a very long series.”
Various Artists - Tropicalia: A Revolution in Sound
“For those that approach with curious caution—overloaded consumers or just first-timers—there are things that need to be said, of course. Things like: no, not every classic song from the era is here, but yes, if you do choose to own only one Tropicália disc, then this should be the one (it’s got great liner notes, too).”
Various Artists - What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves (1967-1977)
Despite its whopping four discs and 91-track length, What It Is never ceases to be compelling. Each track bursts with triumphant horns, slick pianos, serpentine basslines and lumbar-shattering funk. Music doesn’t come much better than hearing Parliament’s Eddie Hazel doing a solo cover of “California Dreaming” full of Hendrixian guitar pyrotechnics and ghostly backing singers. Or a brass-backed Curtis Mayfield cooing his strangely uplifting dirge “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Gonna’ Go.”
In addition to listening to some vintage windows-down bass-rattling funk, any hip-hop head will have a field day trying to pick out which songs have been sampled where. Some are immediately recognizable: “Hard Times” by Baby Huey & The Babysitters provides the foundation for Ghostface’s “Buck 50”; “Ridin’ High” by Fazo-O laid the musical foundation for tracks like Black Moon’s “Shit Is Real” and Snoop’s “Ride 4 Me,” while a Fred Wesley cut called “Four Play” was snatched by DJ Premier for the Gang Starr classic, “Step in the Arena.” And, as one might have guessed, the Dust Brothers-era Beastie Boys also owe a large debt to these cuts: they pilfered Funk Factory’s “Rien Ne Va Plus” for Paul’s Boutique’s “Car Thief” and Eugene McDaniel’s “Headless Heroes” for Ill Communication’s “Get it Together.”
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2006-12-22