In 2012, virtually every album ever recorded is available at the click of a button. As a result, reissues have become something of an afterthought, curiosities that exist primarily for the pleasure of obsessive collectors. Beyond this, however, reissues provide the opportunity for re-introduction to a band’s catalogue, for assessing the effect of the passage of time (and of trends) on critical judgment. Mostly, though, reissues give us an excuse to hop off the new music train and remind ourselves the great music that accompanied earlier moments in our lives. Below I have considered only records that were release after 1990, primarily because I don’t want to try an put records like Document or Song Cycle in historical context, and because you don’t need me to tell you The Velvet Underground & Nico is good. Thankfully there were more than enough adolescent albums to populate this list.
Sometimes a specific community can commandeer a cultural artifact to the point that the rest of the world is completely incapable of evaluating it objectively. Such was the case with Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet, a debaucherous keg-stand of an album that served as the ubiquitous frat-party soundtrack of 2001. Those of us who were turned off by such events dismissed Andrew W.K. as a clown, but 11 years later he stands as a prescient genius. Many of the best bands of the modern era, among them Sleigh Bells and Fang Island, could not so much as exist without the foundation of I Get Wet. A parasitic earworm of an album, I Get Wet is nearly impossible to listen to without wanting to listen to it again immediately. Trivial, sophomoric, reckless, impulsive…and just plain fun. Suspend your prejudices and give in.
It is a sad day for a man when he realizes that a band he thinks of as hip and new is actually ten years old. Now defunct, The Books were guitarist Nick Zammuto and violinist Paul de Jong along with a whole lot of samples. Their entire catalogue was re-released this year in one fantastic box set, and Thought for Food is certainly its highlight. The spectacular spelling-bee ballad “Read, Eat, Sleep” presaged an experimental pop-music future that never came, while “Contempt” delved eerily into avant-garde of the past. The Books may be no more, but thankfully their music has been given the chance to live on like the time-capsule samples that course through their songs.
When a truly great band dissolves, it is hard to admire what is built from the broken pieces. For me, such was the case with Sugar, a band that resulted from the break-up of punk heroes Hüsker Dü. Indeed, to a dedicated fan of Zen Arcade, the fact that Sugar’s records sold, that they were played on the radio, made the whole experience that much more painful. Thankfully, there is the opportunity for such a thing as “critical reappraisal,” and any reasonably objective appraisal of Copper Blue would regard it as a near-masterpiece. The sheer beauty underlying songs like “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” and “Man on the Moon” is undeniable, arguably equaling the heights reached by Bob Mould’s previous legendary band. Along with The Breeders and Sebadoh, Sugar is one of the great second acts of the 90s, and Copper Blue is not to be missed.
7. Blur - 13
While the half of Britain that sided with Oasis in the great brit-pop war were busy listening to Noel Gallagher describe his records as Revolver performing fellatio on Abbey Road, those who sided with Blur had joined the band on a pretty fantastic journey. Having abandoned the classic pop of Parklife in favor of the American-indie-stylings of Blur, Damon Albarn and crew reached their apotheosis on 13, an album as adventurous as anything from a mainstream British band this side of OK Computer. While the album’s open experimentation alienated some listeners 13 revels in the joys of aesthetic risk-taking, and as such it stands as a beautiful piece of pop music in spite of its flaws. Blur’s entire catalogue was reissued this year, and you can’t go wrong with any of its entries. But, for my money, 13 stands above them all.
If you didn’t grow up in the 90s, you might not be aware of how awesome the 90s were. They were pretty awesome. So much so, in fact, that countless great bands from the decade remain overlooked 20 years later. Royal Trux are one such band. Emerging from the wreckage of Pussy Galore alongside their better-known counterpart The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the band produced album after album, of noisy, scuzzy, awe-inspiring rock n’ roll. Accelerator is arguably their finest moment, from the crushing “I’m Ready” to the stunningly emotive closer “Stevie.” And after you hear Accelerator, make sure to listen to Thank You and Twin Infinitives. And really the band’s entire catalogue. Better get started.
There are a handful of rockstars that will always be cooler than you, and Nick Cave sits comfortably among their ranks. Between The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds, his catalogue can prove somewhat impenetrable, but there is not better place to start that the double offering Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus. The first LP is all raw rock power, while the second has an ethereal quality that places the first in stark relief. An under-appreciated classic.
Back in 1992, there were a number of directions in which rap music could have gone. Ultimately it went the way of The Chronic (largely), and as a result Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde sounds like something of a historical relic. And what a marvelous relic it is. Placing value in humor and wordplay over hubris and gunplay, Slimkid, Fatlip, and Booty Brown brought a joyous sensibility to hip-hop that has sadly gone AWOL. The group never reached this level again, but they didn’t need to: Bizarre Ride II cemented their legacy.
Reissued earlier this year as part of Thrill Jockey’s 20th anniversary extravaganza, Tortoise’s landmark Millions Now Living Will Never Die is a still-vital example of the kind of experimental music that was circulating through Chicago in the mid-90s. Most of the praise the album has received has focused on 21-minute-opener “Djed,” a Krautrock locomotive with shades of everything from King Tubby to Terry Riley. Millions… is the rare record that can confidently be called the only one of its type, and it deserves your full attention.
As mentioned in my list of the year’s best hip-hop albums, I am something of a Wu-Tang obssessive. It is safe to say that I have listened to each and every album in the Wu catalogue a disturbing number of times. Even Dopium, the third LP from U-God, has been spun in my home on at least a dozen occasions.
And this is the best Wu-Tang record of them all.
I have nothing to add to the massive body of critical praise that has been heaped upon Loveless in the last 21 years. It is simply impossible to imagine modern music without it.