As 2000 closes and we all look back fondly at the benchmark records of the year, it’s easy to overlook the forgotten nuggets of yorethose reissued albums that, thanks to our modern obsession with cataloging, have been granted a second life and a new generation of ears. It’s surprising how relevant and modern these sounds of the past still are, especially the left-of-center obscurities that never even got a fighting chance when they were first released. As critics and fans marvel over the seemingly endless creativity of groups like Radiohead, godspeed you black emperor!, and Broadcast, it’s worth going back over some of the adventurous work that preceded them. Often, these records provide just as many thrilling moments of innovation, and the simple fact that they still have an audience proves their durability.
Bill Holt, Dreamies (Gear Fab) In 1973, a 30-year-old office worker from Delaware with little musical experience purchased a Moog synthesizer, an acoustic guitar, and a four-track reel-to-reel recorder. Inspired by the Beatles, Dylan, and John Cage, he made a startling gem, a homemade psychedelic masterpiece that prefigures the Olivia Tremor Control by 20 years. Until this year’s reissue, it was a private-press oddity totally unknown to the public. Thankfully, Gear Fab has rectified the situation, and Bill Holt’s lone foray into recording is now widely available. Without a doubt, one of the year’s best-kept secrets.
Various Artists, Jazz Actuel (Charly) From 1969 to 1971, the French label BYG put out a series of recordsthe Actuel seriesthat has served over the years as a sort of benchmark for avant garde music. Legendary American free jazz artists including Sonny Sharrock, Sun Ra, Don Cherry, and Paul Bley recorded mind-blowing sessions, while various European journeymen like Musica Electronica Viva and Ame Son made landmark albums as well. To this day, the stark white gatefold cover of an Actuel disc is enough to get a record collector salivating, so this box set, a sort of “best of,” is long overdue. Truly expansive stuff, compiled with the help of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore.
Various Artists, Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 4 (Revenant) What the Actuel series did for free jazz in Europe, Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music Vols. 1-3 did for roots music here. A field recordist, cartoonist, filmmaker, and general eccentric, Smith contributed to postwar America’s understanding of our country’s musical heritage arguably more than any other man. Now the folks at Revenant (guitarist John Fahey’s imprint) have gone a step further and compiled this posthumous fourth volume, which Smith planned to release but never got the chance. Legends like Bukka White, Robert Johnson, and the Carter Family are paired with lesser-knowns like Blind Alfred Reed and the Blue Sky Boys, but the startling continuity of the music and the elaborate packaging make this a must-have.
Orlando Julius, Super Afro Soul (AfroStrut) Orlando Julius, one of the progenitors of “Afrobeat” along with peers like Fela Kuti, recorded this classic slab of ethno-funk way back in 1966. Since then, the record has been virtually unknown outside his homeland of Nigeria. At the time, this blend of traditional African sounds and American R&B was revolutionary.
Faust, The Wumme Years: 1970-1973 (RER) Faust, granddaddies of “Krautrock,” were sonic pioneers whose seemingly endless musical ideas prefigured the post-punk eclecticism of Beck, Cornelius, and other hi-fi misfits. This elaborate five-CD box set compiles the group’s first four albums, tossing in a bonus disc of BBCradio sessions and unreleased and live material. Each of the five CDs in the set will see individual issue in the next year.
Various Artists, Doob Doob O’Rama (Normal) Recent years have seen an unprecedented slew of lounge kitsch, B-movie soundtrack, and easy-listening reissues to fulfill the dreams of any audio-schlock obsessive. But who would’ve thought some of the most thrilling and relevant music in this loosely defined genre would originate with the movie industry of India? This hilariously enjoyable compilation is a dream come true: campy vocals, sitars, James Bond guitars, and swirling orchestras. The music is incredibly listenableand surely more memorable than the films that inspired it.
Inside the Dream SyndicateDays of the Niagara (Table of the Elements) La Monte Young, Marianne Zazeela, Tony Conrad, and original Velvet Underground members John Cale and Angus MacLise made up the core of the so-called “Dream Syndicate”: a collective of musicians dedicated to testing the limits of minimalism. It was with these artists that the concept of the “drone”the hypnotic effect created by a sustained single notefirst truly entered the Western consciousness. The Velvets used it to great effect on songs like “Heroin,” as did many other groups after them, but the Dream Syndicate pioneered use of the drone several years earlier. Until this release, the group’s recordings were largely unavailable, except on nearly impossible-to-find bootlegs. This reissue is by no means officialLa Monte Young, for one, has practically disowned itbut it is a fascinating glimpse into a spectacular moment in time and well worth hearing.
Looks like he was a great Artist.......who left his Legacy behind for others to follow.....
Indianapolis (CA-35), not Indiana.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…
So long Don. Your creative energy and encouragement were inspirational to me.