5. High Rise – High Rise II (Black Editions)
Originally released on P.S.F. Records in 1986 in a small run of 700 LPs, the record feels like it can barely contain the music within. The trio, led by bassist/vocalist Asahito Nanjo and virtuoso guitarist Munehiro Narita, plays with such overdriven fury that sounds like it is slowly peeling off layers of your speakers with each rotation of the turntable. Neither original recording engineers Kenji Nakazawa and Kazu Hama nor Nanjo Asahito, who remastered it for this new edition, attempted to clean up the group’s sound, choosing to instead present the tinnitus-inducing effect of one of High Rise’s live performance. You don’t listen to this album so much as you hold on for dear life as waves of molten psychedelia flood the room.
4. Wire – Pink Flag/Chairs Missing/154 (Pinkflag)
While much ink has been spilled on these albums in the four decades since their release, the men of Wire released the definitive statements on all three this year. These multi-disc reissues, packaged in handsome book form with copious liner notes from Graham Duff and perfectly ornery remembrances from critic Jon Savage, tell as complete a story as possible of the creation and execution of each record. Each album has been remastered and left as its own document on the first disc, with the bonus discs fleshing out the tale with contemporaneous singles and studio work, and copious demo recordings.
3. Bobbie Gentry – The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters (Capitol)
For an artist that is still beloved among fans of country, Southern R&B and psychedelia, it’s a wonder that Bobbie Gentry’s work has not been compiled in this manner until now. Regardless of the timing, this collection that brings together the seven albums that she recorded for Capitol Records in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as a treasure trove of unreleased material, singles and rare gems like the long-shelved jazz album she recorded. It all adds up to an incredible, yet still short career for an artist that removed herself from the machinations of the music industry and has been living a quiet, secluded life ever since. If this collection helps bring her out of retirement, the wait for its creation will have been worth it.
2. The Beatles – The Beatles (UMC)
Adding more sprawl to what is already a sprawling double LP of music seems a little preposterous. But this is The Beatles we’re talking about. If there’s a new angle with which to bring continued attention to their discography and films and cultural impact, they will find a way to do it. Cynical as that may sound, I still can’t turn away from the Fab Four. Especially when the results of this continued churn are glorious boxed sets like this. The work Giles Martin did to remix and remaster this 1968 classic continues to bring out surprises and offer a new lens through which to view this well-known material. The studio outtakes provide some crucial insight into the effort these gents put into crafting their songs. But the true treasure is the Esher Demos, named so for the town where George Harrison had a home and where the Beatles recorded rough acoustic demos of the songs they wrote during their spiritual retreat in India. It may be the last time all four men delighted in each other’s company and the silly, chemically-enhanced joy of making music together.
1. John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album (Impulse)
It feels strange to call this a reissue as the music found on this 2018 release was never issued in the first place. Recorded with the classic quartet of Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyler, this 1963 session was thought to have been lost until the family of the saxophonist’s first wife turned up a copy among her personal effects. Considering the mileage that Coltrane’s labels have gotten churning through his well-documented discography, any unheard material from this legendary artist would be newsworthy enough. But these early takes on tracks that would end up on later albums and the untitled, never-before-issued tunes are remarkable, and a continued exploration of the modal jazz ideas that would mark his classics Impressions and My Favorite Things. This collection is another brilliant and colorful flash from a quartet that was creating lightning with no small of sweat and gritted teeth exertion.