‘Tis the season to peruse a bevy of numbered rundowns as websites undergo deserved holiday breaks. As it was with previous TVD Best of lists, the releases below aren’t an all-encompassing pronouncement from an overstuffed armchair on high; instead they are merely a hierarchy of loosely paired favorites assembled and presented with cheer as the calendar swiftly runs out of days.
5. A Tribe Called Quest, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm and KMD, Black Bastards | A Tribe Called Quest’s debut has never been MIA; really, the main attraction for the 25th Anniversary Edition is a well-deserved remastering that infuses the set with a sonic vibrancy the initial CD version definitely lacked.
One of rap’s canonical albums, People’s brandishes an impressive duality, serving as a magnificent capper to the quick fire evolution of the ‘80s as it assisted in igniting the form’s ‘90s renaissance. A quarter century later People’s isn’t the slightest bit antiquated; instead, it remains a qualitative beacon for the style it helped to establish.
Based out of Long Beach, NY and featuring Zev Love X, a rapper soon to be known as MF DOOM, KMD (Kausing Much Damage) was a part of hip-hop’s ‘90s flourishing. In ’94 the release of KMD’s highpoint was quashed by Elektra due to inflammatory title and cover art; in turn it became a rarity with a steadily increasing legend.
Black Bastards’ reemergence through DOOM’s Metalface imprint pairs the original album with a second CD of remixes, alternate versions and instrumentals plus a vinyl picture disc of “What a Nigga Know?”; the music is exquisitely packaged in pop-up book design expanding upon the original art, and the cumulative effect not only backs up frequent assertions that the ‘90s were hip-hop’s greatest decade, but in a year where demonization of the other has become almost commonplace, it’s difficult to locate a more timely reissue.
4. We’re Loud: 90s Cassette Punk Unknowns and Harry Pussy, (s/t) | When the Killed by Death and Bloodstains volumes began appearing as the ‘80s wound down, the contents altered the perspectives of those who thought they had the pre-HC punk era all figured out. Naturally, as the ‘90s ramped up there was all sorts of subterranean action either ignored or recorded but never actually released; We’re Loud is one instance of the stuff that flew under the radar or remained in the can.
Spreading 19 bands across four sides, the common denominator is Jamie Paul Lamb; most of it swings between non-labored extensions of KBD-style punk and appropriately ragged updates of Nuggets, and that so much was documented in total obscurity is a real stumper since the majority is wickedly cool. Yes, a whole lot is premeditated snot spewing, but Les Fleurs Du Mal’s melodic doozy “Sweet Sweet Satan” is ludicrous to resist. So don’t.
We’re Loud is a fine example of punk as an anchor in a sea of consumerist desperation, but the sheer aural aggressiveness of Miami’s Harry Pussy is an altogether more threatening beast spawned from noise rock at its most tumultuous and energized by an undisguised distaste for the calculated unconventionality of their moment. And there’s an overriding sense of purpose and underlying discipline to the group’s convulsions easily justifying the return to print of their ’93 debut for the Siltbreeze label.
Mainly consisting of Bill Orcutt on guitar and Adris Hoyos on drums and vocals, spots here erupt like sustained freakouts from the young Yamatsuka Eye; elsewhere it resembles field recordings of the Dead C wrestling a metal filing cabinet down a flight of marble stairs. Other parts, such as the unrecognizable closing decimation of Kraftwerk’s “Showroom Dummies,” are pedal to the metal noise-rock squall done right. The pungency stands amongst the best noise of the last 25 years.
3. Mike Osborne, Dawn and Roscoe Holcomb, San Diego State Folk Festival 1972 | The achievements of British alto saxophonist Mike Osborne are numerous; in addition to leading his own groups he played in the bands of Mike Westbrook and Michael Gibbs, was a member of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath, collaborated with members of the Canterbury scene, and was the middle initial in trio S.O.S. with fellow sax men John Surman and Alan Skidmore.
Dawn dishes six from Osborne’s trio of 1970 with South Africans Harry Miller on bass and Louis Moholo on drums. It’s an outstanding plunge into trio expression, the rhythm section in full gear as Osborne blows mightily, attaining Fire Music energy without indebtedness to any specific model (there are shades of ‘Trane, Coleman, and even Ayler). The latter portion of the CD offers Osborne’s earliest recordings from ‘66 with Surman, Miller, and drummer Alan Jackson exploring the inside of a Blue Note-ESP Disk-Impulse triangle. Dawn should deliver a treat for fans of exploratory jazz.
Unfortunately Osborne suffered from mental illness later in life; Dawn catches him on the upswing. By contrast San Diego State Folk Festival 1972 is an autumnal scenario, though the brilliant banjoist and vocalist Roscoe Holcomb lived for another nine years (he gave his final performance in 1978). Holcomb had been workshopping at the festival all day, but during his tidy set he still burns with the raw intensity of the High Lonesome Sound.
San Diego State culminates with a moving eight-plus minute a cappella rendering of “Wandering Boy” in tandem with Holcomb’s Kentucky cohort Jean Ritchie. However, this writer’s highlight comes directly prior through “Single Girl,” the song having provided an introduction to Holcomb via the soundtrack to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. Those using Tompkins Square’s fresh unveiling of this performance (the only complete one commercially available) as a gateway to the man’s work aren’t likely to be disappointed.
2. Van Morrison, Astral Weeks and Françoise Hardy, Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles | As a younger lad, your correspondent was known to occasionally spout the theory that Van Morrison’s best days derived from his outfit Them. This is of course a punkish opinion and one easy for a lad to hold given the at times blatantly grown-up nature of Van’s solo discography.
Well, as my own inevitable maturity unfurled the viewpoint changed; big surprise, eh? It’s now clear as a cloudless afternoon sky that Astral Weeks is the pinnacle of Morrison’s achievement. The cuts continuing to slay these lobes on every listen are “Cypress Avenue” and especially the emotional ache of “Madame George,” though in fact the record is essentially perfect. The extras on Warner Brothers’ Expanded Edition are truly enlightening, and the backing throughout, in particular the acoustic bass of Richard Davis, is sublime.
Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles is Françoise Hardy’s ’62 debut and is arguably the finest in Light in the Attic’s admirable reissues of the singer’s work across the decade; released earlier this year on CD, those albums get the vinyl treatment at the end of January 2016 and will in turn receive an in-depth TVD inspection at the time.
Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles’ high placement here shouldn’t inspire assumptions that it represents the entirety of a worthy ‘60s run. Hardy’s first stands on its own merits, thriving on a stripped-down setting of voice, guitar and percussion entirely devoid of syrup. And where much of the yé-yé universe was producer-driven, Hardy wrote all but two of the dozen tracks here. Furthermore, the chances of anything in 2015 sounding like Tous Les Garcons Et Les Filles are effectively zilch.
1. Alice Coltrane, Universal Consciousness and Sun City Girls, Torch of the Mystics | The positive turnaround regarding Alice Coltrane’s oeuvre commenced a good while back and has endured for long enough that some listeners may know of her by reputation and without context as simply another in a lengthy list of jazz greats.
And while Coltrane’s Impulse recordings haven’t been all that hard to hear since their release (the CD-era was kind to her output), Superior Viaduct’s vinyl edition of Universal Consciousness gifts a true masterpiece to newcomers and old acquaintances alike; due to the searching inclusiveness of its leader, the album’s six tracks sound remarkably strong in 2015.
So do the Sun City Girls. Akin to Universal Consciousness, Torch of the Mystics is a reissue lacking bells and whistles and is all the better for it. It signified a major leap not just for the Girls, a trio formed in Phoenix, AZ in 1979 and extant until the death of drummer-vocalist Charles Gocher in 2007, but for the u-ground circa 1990 overall.
Before Torch, the Sun City Girls were an intermittently enthralling, momentarily Fugs-ian, always eclectic entity existing on the punk fringe as they cut three LPs for Placebo, the label of skate-rockers Jody Foster’s Army. During this period they were a bit of a puzzle, but their fourth effort and first for Majora clarified matters and raised the stakes through well-honed, often jaw-dropping instrumental power. A tonic for contemporary ills; Alice Coltrane and the Sun City Girls reside at the root of true freedom.