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Friday, December 12, 2008

Music: Best of 2008 From the Archives

This year showed that the box set - due to price and lack of material - is on it's way to becoming a rarity. Where New Order or The Replacements could have boxed up their notable songs with a bunch of rarities and called it a day, they instead went with the catalog re-issue route - fleshing out their original releases with bonus tracks and discs. This isn't necessarily a bad thing and it's probably more lucrative for the artist and labels.

I've listed my favorite archival releases of 2008 below, in no particular order. Enjoy!

1. Big Dipper – Supercluster
Underknown and underappreciated during their late 80s heyday Supercluster collects their first two albums and ep, plus  abonus disc of an unrecorded esarly 90s record - leaving out only their major label misfire on Epic Records. It's not missed, as their indie material was far superior and presciently hinted at the sound of later bands like Pavement and Wolf Parade.

2. Mission of Burma – reissues
The core of Big Dipper were refuges from ex-Mission man Peter Prescott's follow-up band, Volcano Suns. Though the Suns were pretty good Mission of Burma is essential listening for anyone who is serious about post punk or indie rock. The key records here are Vs. and Signals Calls and Marches - an EP expanded here to album length with the crucial addition of the band's first single and bonus tracks. Pristine production helps define the band's gargantuan sound and effortless dynmics, with tunes that span the gamut from hardcore to power punk with a touch of progressive rock styled time-signature trickery.

3. Willie Nelson – One Hell of a Ride
Willie Nelson is the perfect artist for a box set and One Hell of a Ride shows why. 4 Discs of prime Willie from demos of songs he wrote and were made famous by others to 70s outlaw classics to his standards period to his sometimes cheesy star duets this has it all.

4. The Replacements – reissues
The catalog of Minneapolis' finest rock band finally resides under one roof at Rhino, which has done a fantastic job of reissuing their Twin/Tone and Sire albums with lots of juicy bonus tracks, including sessions produced by Alex Chilton. If you're not sure where to start, the trio of Let it Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me are the band at their most consistent. A huge influence on bands like Wilco, The Hold Steady, and the usual punk emo crowd who could learn a few tricks about songwriting from Mr. Westerberg.

5. Steinski – What Does it All Mean?
The first track I ever searched for back in the days of an unfettered Napster was Double-Dee and Steinski's Lesson 1 - the grandaddy of all sampling. Only it was done before there was such a thing as a sampler. Every song snippet and line of movie dialogue had to be done by hand with a razorblade and audio tape. Steinski went on to make many more incredible tracks and most of the great ones are here. Even better is the second disc which is an extending radio show that shows the depth and breadth of his style. Essential for fans of Girl Talk.

6. Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue
Tragic Beach Boy Dennis Wilson is often overshadowed by equally tragic but still living brother Brian. Dennis started coming into his own a as a sonwriter as both Brian and the Beach Boys entered their long period of decline. Frustrated with the band's conservatism he struck out on his own with this brillianst slice of 70s gritty singer songwriter rock.

7. The Jesus and Mary Chain – The Power of Negative Thinking
Mining their b-sides for gold, the Jesus and Mary Chain give fans and newbies a treat. The quality of these outtakes are uniformly high and essential tracks like single "Sidewalking" make this a must have for any JAMC lover.

8. Roy Orbison – The Soul of Rock and Roll
This is why box sets were invented - a stunning career overview with all te highlights that puts an extraordinary talent in perspective. From fascinating early recordings alone and with the Teen Kings to his last album and cuts with supergroup The Traveling Wilburys this is a revelation.

9. The Clash – Live at Shea Stadium
Their opening gig for The Who at cavernous Shea Stadium isn't the concert gig I've been dying to hear from this legendary band but it's pretty great nonetheless, right down to Joe Strummer scolding the typically New York audience for yammering. I'll always prefer Topper Headon as a drummer but Terry (Tory Crimes) Chimes acquits himself well, even with the newer material. The recording quality is superb. Now how about those Bond's Casino shows?

10. Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs
Dylan's Bootleg Series jumps around as much as his autobiography did, this time taking in recent outtakes and stragglers. Luckily he's been in a purple patch of late and his alternate versions of tunes always fascinate as he never plays the same way twice. Boo on the ultra-expensive 3-disc version though.

11. New Order – Reissues
Fascinating re-glimpse into one of the 80s best and most innovative bands. Out of the ashes of Joy Division came a band that at first hewed to the mopey rock of their earlier incarnation but soon fell in thrall to club beats and synthesizers. The albums have been smartly packaged with their contemporaneous singles which were often more poppy and innovative.

12. Various Artists – Love Train – The Sound of Philadelphia
A fine collection of 70s soul that finds room for some late 60s and early 80s tracks and doesn't hew overly closely to its theme. The meat is some great moments from the Spinners among others that showed those MFSBs what the TSOP was all about.

13. Belle and Sebastian – The BBC Sessions
Alternate radio versions of some great B & S classics plus a later live show. Not the place for non-fans to start but for those who already know what's in store, pleasure awaits.

14. R.E.M. – Murmur
One of the greatest debut albums ever is finally remastered, showing anew the deep strangeness and great songwriting and playing of what many still consider to be this band's finest album. Disc two adds an amazing period live club show. It's hard to remeber how much R.E.M. owed to Wire and P.I.L. until yougo back to this early stuff.

15. Pavement – Brighten The Corners –Nicene Creedence Ed.
Matador continues their superlative Pavement re-issue series with this underrrated gem. as is the costume, the value of my rare singles is droppe dby appending them as well as previously unheard bonus tracks and obscurities.

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