Retro Fossils: Reissue Gems of 2016

The holiday season is upon us. For many of us that translates into a lot of spare time on our hands. Never a better time to dust the collection off and take it for a spin. In the spirit of New Year and new discoveries, here’s a list highlighting the wide range of sounds covered in 2016’s reissues. Quirky post-punk fun, drones that dive into the abyss, ethereal musical shrines and more – you’re sure to find something worthy of an addition to your collection.

 

Aragon – Self Titled [HMV Japan]

Aragon’s only album from 1985 got a much requested reissue this year by HMV Japan, but with strict limits placed on the number of HMV releases, this came unfortunately with a premium price tag from the get-go. Believe me, it is worth every cent in getting you an experience that’s close to what can only be described as a spiritual encounter with celestial beings. “Horridula” is a heavenly treat for the auditory senses. The jazz-like vocals by member and vocalist Kazuhiro Nishimatsu reaches out to you like a nurturing hand, guiding you towards an abstract world where perfect harmony exists. The entire album is underlined by warm layers of percussion and phenomenal synths that is reminiscent of some early Vangelis records. Slow it down further and you’ve got yourselves a perfect vaporwave.

Suburban Lawns – Self Titled [Futurismo]

Su Tissue, Frankie Ennui, John Gleur, Vex Billingsgate and Chuck Roast – A constellation of slightly eccentric pseudonyms made up by members of the LA New Wave band Suburban Lawns. Futurismo released a beautiful record bundle that includes their full length LP as well as the subsequent and final EP before the group disbanded.

Some of the tracks are extremely catchy little post-punk songs with a pop song structure and a huge fun factor. Yet others are avant-garde art rock compositions with unconventional pacing and tempo changes. Su Tissues’ strangely stoic delivery of the lyrics often are exaggerated with weird vocal effects that make the band sound like undercover aliens disguised as humans attempting to blend in with the early 80s LA punk scene that they crash landed in.

The lyrics of “Janitor” continue to elude my comprehension. I reckon it’s some inside joke that got turned into a song. The chorus is very contagious and, well, just plain weird, albeit in a very pleasant way. It’s the most remarkable song on the tracklist. Highly recommended fun stuff!

Lizzy Mercier Descloux Mambo Nassau [Light in the Attic]

After several republished editions of her debut full length LP, 2016 finally saw the official release of Lizzy’s sought-after – yet reasonably priced – follow-up album Mambou Nassau. With this album, the no wave princess entered the terrain of funky African dance music-inspired new wave dancefloor fillers for discotheques that serve an oddball clientele. Included in the credits is chief inspector Wally Badarou (with also two reissue albums out earlier this year) adding his special synth sauce over some of the tracks.

“Slipped Disc” is the stand-out track with a great bassline and drum tracks that go back and forth. What a tune! Once you have mastered its odd timing you will be lulled into a hypnotic state compelling you to perform snakelike dance moves. Badarou seals the deal on this dancefloor madness with synth additions that resemble a sort of high-pitched steel drum.

Vivien Goldman – Resolutionary (Songs 1979-1982) [Staubgold]

Whose quirky high-pitched voice was that singing about a launderette on Madlib’s album Beat Konducta: Movie Scenes, Vol. 1-2 ? That’s Vivien Goldman a.k.a “The Punk Professor”. Before she was rediscovered by the hip-hop sampling culture in the mid 2000s, Vivien´s humble contribution to England´s early post-punk era had fallen quickly into obscurity, like the work of so many other brilliant short-lived artists. Next to everything punk-related, she fell in love with the reggae culture – a combination of lifestyles and sounds that is for the most part nowadays synonymous with the squatting and counter-culture scene.

This release features all the tracks of Vivien’s solo 7″, her vocal contributions on Flying Lizards’ first album and the EP of her one-time dubby reggae project Chantage. “Launderette” is a lovechild of dub-infused effects on a violin and Caribic drumming, with a punk bassline functioning as the heart of the rhythm section and the typical over-the-top vocal style popular with lots of feminist post-punk front women at the time. The echoing Glockenspiel serves as a sweet cherry on top. Lovers of dub, old reggae, punk, avant-garde and quirky lo-fi songs will be able to find something to your liking for sure!

Hailu Mergia / Dahlak Band – Wede Harer Guzo [Awesome Tapes from Africa]

This year Awesome tapes from Africa treated us once again to a Hailu Mergia release. No solo organ and keyboard works this time round, but a 1978 group effort with the Ethiopian rhythm section Dahlak Band. The excellent restoration and mastering done by Jessica Thompson make this a good accompaniment to your outdoor activities.

We have been  – and still are – flooded with forgotten African music of late. What makes this one worth purchasing? If I’m being honest the rhythm section Dahlak provides is nothing particularly outstanding considering that the African continent has got way more noteworthy ones to offer, especially from this time period. Nonetheless, they are a solid backing band that provides a jazz club vibe, with the occasional horn section or trumpet accompanying Mergia that added some variation. What makes this record great is Mergia´s organ rendition – beautiful, hypnotizing and played with such sincerity at all times. While it can get funky or groovy at times, there’s a certain sadness that resonates throughout all of his work, one that comes from a man who must have seen his fair share of darkness in this lifetime.

“Sintayehu Dahlak” takes the gold. The oddly heavy groove created could easily be mistaken for contemporary lo-fi hip-hop and a sophisticated horn section. This piece captures the whole band in perfect alignment; a perfect groove found after a long search. Mergia doesn’t come into the foreground that often on this track but when he does, it sounds almost as if he’d been possessed by a ghost that has caught the blues.

Caroline K – Now Wait For Last Year [Blackest Ever Black]

Caroline Kaye Walters is one of the three founding members of London based industrial trio Nocturnal Emissions. A typical act spun out of the scene Throbbing Gristle had set in motion. Harsh industrial noises and the avant-garde lifestyles of mad super villain scientists experimenting with electronic devices to create sonic atrocities. While Nocturnal Emissions can at times get into angry or cynical tendencies, this solo effort by Caroline K. is filled with melancholy and sadness tinged with a sweet and soft delicacy lingering just under the surface. Perhaps the dominance of her male partners-in-crime had blocked this delicate part from entering their Nocturnal Emissions creations.

This is perhaps one of the most stunning ambient/drone works Blackest Ever Black has put out this year. The A-side contains a 20-minute ambient piece made out of several drone variations that’s met halfway by a mystical siren calling out into a vacant void. Impressive work! The B-side holds the four remaining pieces – one of which is another ambient piece I’d like to shine the light on.

“Animal Lattice” probably refers to a caged animal. It starts out pleasant enough with sounds from a medieval organ. It quickly undergoes a change of mood when a haunting female voice full of despair enters the scene, setting the tone for the rest of the song. The rhythm of this dark and gloomy piece never changes its pace, remaining repetitive throughout like a force from the dark ages. Could this be an abstract manifestation of what this caged creature is going through?

Blue Gas – Shadows From Nowhere [Archeo Recordings, Best Record Italy/Best Record]

The final entry is not an album but a 12“ single that saw its first re-release this year. Archeo does limited editions only and this one is fast gaining popularity on the web, so be quick to get yourselves a copy. Shadows From Nowhere is an independent one-off release by Italian composer and producer Celso Valli who – under the moniker Sandon – contributed to space disco groups such as Azoto and Ben Richardson and Stefania Rotolo´s campy yet awesome Disco Tic. Perhaps this was Celso´s eventual musical ambition – To create melancholic disco-style slow jams that sound as if the Bee Gees failed to take their prescribed prozac and then listened to the Smiths a couple of times too often.

The song has a calm and simple – perhaps pre-programmed – drum computer beat where relaxed synth tones and a deep slow bassline lure you into a slumber while a sad man sings and reminisces over old memories of past lovers. All of a sudden the end of the chorus lashes out with a striking synthesizer wave and a distant bashing drum kit enters the song to wake you up from this eternal dream where you got caught up with chasing shadows, from nowhere.