Countdown: 2013: Compilations and reissues

I have something of a love-hate relationship with the whole idea of reissues and compilations. Some are truly worthwhile – reminding listeners of bands that they may have otherwise missed, or introducing them to something wholly new. Others, however, reek of shameless cash-in. I’ve ignored the latter here, and gone for those that were released in 2013 that are absolutely worth your time.

Countdown: 2013

26-Nov: Disappointments
03-Dec: Best Compilations and Reissues
10-Dec: Best Tracks
17-Dec: Best Albums
24-Dec: Best Gigs


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Needless to say, there were a lot of both released this year, too, but I was certainly relatively picky in what I did buy (particularly as some reissues can get really quite expensive), and I certainly wasn’t disappointed by any of these ten. Moving on, what is coming up over the next few weeks is in the box.

The Breeders
Last Splash LSXX

One of the most unexpected successes of the early nineties alt-rock boom was Last Splash – a more-than-a-bit-odd album that was worth investing time in, but it’s crowning moment was certainly the classic single Cannonball. I was a little surprised, though, to see a twentieth anniversary reissue of the album – how many more of these do we need? However, I do love this album, and this expanded take on the album (three CDs!) is a treasure trove. There is of course the original album (having had a brush-up, but little has changed), but then there are also all of the singles, B-sides (including the whole of the glorious Safari EP), various demos and some great live material too. The live show doing the whole (original) album was also awesome, but that is another story…

Twenty quid for six CDs – their three albums, two CDs of sessions and live material, and then the peerless The Three EPs – made this an absolute bargain, particularly as we’d realised that we didn’t have The Three EPs on CD anymore (god knows what happened to that). Ok, so those first twelve tracks are the most essential moments (and many bands have had entire careers where they haven’t reached the heights that The Beta Band did there), but in retrospect, what followed in subsequent albums still hold up quite well. Well, aside from their last album, perhaps…

Green – 25th Anniversary Edition

Ok, so hardly an album that was hard to find – and this isn’t the first re-issue of it – but this album is my favourite R.E.M. album by a mile and this twenty-fifth anniversary remaster makes it shine even more. Post-Document, this was R.E.M.’s leap into major label big-time, and they delivered on every single level. In fact, the album is so brilliant that even the throwaway, “hidden”, final track known as Untitled trumps many R.E.M. singles that followed it. Also worth noting here is that the second CD is an entire live show from the era, one of a very different band to the one that dealt with fame in their later years, that’s for sure.

Pop Will Eat Itself
Dos Dedos Mis Amigos / A Lick of the Old Cassette Box
Cherry Red

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The reissue and expansion of the Poppies’ entire career was finally completed during 2013 with the remaster, reissue and expansion of final album Dos Dedos Mis Amigos, the album where the Poppies finally fully embraced their industrial tendencies and released an album that was much heavier, much darker, and relied much less on sampling than before. Despite tossing away much of what came before, somehow it worked brilliantly, with very little filler and many killer tracks (my favourite, for what it’s worth, remains the sardonic charge of Everything’s Cool). But the most interesting part of this re-issue was what was on the second CD – the first official release of what was meant to be the follow-up album to Dos Dedos…, but was never completed. Yeah, so some of it has been circulating on live bootlegs for aeons, but they were always pretty ropey – so to get what did get finished dusted up for release was a hell of a surprise. And while the tracks are clearly a “work in progress”, there are some fascinating “what might have beens” here. The grinding, bass-heavy 100% is **it is the best track, by far, and in fact acts as a pretty good first entry to it – much of the commercially accessible side of the Poppies had been entirely ground away by this point, replaced by a snarling attitude and ever-darkening mood that perhaps matched the times. If you have an interest in the Poppies, this is an essential purchase, even if only to finish the first part of their story.

Cabaret Voltaire
#8385 COLLECTED WORKS 1983 – 1985

After many years of inactivity – and frankly no sign of the band ever reforming (perhaps for the best), the Cab’s fortieth anniversary has seen a perhaps long-overdue re-issue and remaster of much of their material. The crowning release of the series was this epic box-set, that I decided had to be picked up (I got the six CD, two DVD variant, rather than the even more sprawling version that included vinyl too!). It also shows just how prolific the band were at the time – there are three full albums, an EP, a selection of 12″ singles here, not to mention a couple of live DVDs and some rarities that never saw release previously. But not only that, it sees these industrial pioneers moving away from their abrasive roots and starting to include various dancier, funkier influences to impressive effect, for the most part. Ok, so not all of it worked, but tracks like Crackdown, Sensoria and Just Fascination are all pinnacles of their art – and tracks like Why Kill Time (When You Can Kill Yourself) shows that not all of the old edge had gone. Also, the whole box looks fantastic, too – if there really must be re-release after re-release, more of them should look, feel and sound as good as this.

The first Metal Dance comp was an excellent retread of 80s industrial/EBM/new beat/etc, covering an exceptionally wide range of bands and springing up all kinds of surprises (for a start, finding it in a small, now-closed, branch of HMV in the City of London the week of release was a shock in itself!). What’s great is that the second release in the series is even better, to my ears – with a selection of perhaps harder-edged tracks with a few real revelations included. In particular, a brilliant instrumental take on Der Amboss by Visage, a Godley & Creme (!) track that fits right in, but the real killer track for me is a phenomenal 400 Blows remix of Skinny Puppy’s Deadlines. Metal Dance 3, if it happens, will be fascinating to see what else Jackson can unearth.

Every year I look forward to the Dependence compilation, as Dependent are one of those rare labels who realise that a label compilation needs to be rather more than just a collection of stuff we already have. This year was no exception, with various exclusives and glimpses of the future (not least new – and brilliant – unreleased tracks from Seabound, Click Click and Encephalon), but also a solid collection of bands I might not otherwise have heard. Other labels would do well to take a leaf out of their book.

I did actually consider trying to find a way to get across to Chicago for Cold Waves II, but a pile-up of commitments and other spending priorities meant it wasn’t possible, sadly. This compilation, though, gave a good idea of what I missed, and that is broadly a whole swathe of the kind of US industrial that I love. And like the Dependent compilation, this had a number of exclusives, in particular a storming new “RevCo” track under the guise of Cocksure, with Chris Connelly back delivering the vocals as he should. But it wasn’t just that, it was a whole compilation of great music, with not a single bad track to be found, and a few new discoveries along the way (in particular the kick-ass industrial-rock of The Clay People).

One box set I missed out on was the monstrous, 148 track, eight CD complete discography of Dirk Ivens’ finest work – the project where he successfully merged the harder edged, extreme electronics of Sonar and The Klinik, with the more accessible side of Absolute Body Control to spectacular effect – but I did pick up the smaller, two CD Compiled release, which is effectively a “best of”, and it succeeds on every level. OK, so DIVE isn’t for everyone – I can’t imagine my fiancée enjoyed Dirk’s scorching set at Infest much – but if you spend the time, it becomes clear why Ivens’ work is so influential. This is industrial that manages to be harsh and tuneful, not to mention brilliant.

25 years of The Orb. Bloody hell. Poster boys, perhaps, for all that was (and is) good and bad about ambient electronic music, maybe, but Alex Peterson’s long-running project is perhaps long overdue a critical renaissance. And maybe this awesome compilation might just be the start – a collection of their greatest moments and some well-chosen remixes, but also some fantastic live tracks and videos that remind that The Orb’s music isn’t half as sophorific as many might have you believe.

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