The 20 Best Reissues and Box Sets of 2012

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We’ve already told you our picks for the best new music of 2012, so today we’re celebrating the releases that look backwards as we choose the year’s best reissues, best-of compilations and box sets—although, of course, some new or previously unheard material managed to crack the list. Check out the Best Reissues and Box Sets of 2012, as voted upon by our panel of staff and writers, below.

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10. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
No album begs for a super-deluxe, multiple-disc reissue like Smashing Pumpkins’ behemoth, 28-track Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. From the beautiful re-imagined astral artwork to the storybook liner notes, everything’s a little more grand about the release that already aimed sky-high, capturing the Pumpkins at the height of their career. “This was the best time in the band by far,” Billy Corgan says in the liner notes. “I think that’s one of the great tragedies in our story, that when we finally did find the right balance internally we enjoyed our greater success. What’s sad about that is we were never able to recapture that again.” And in this band’s time of mass-production of material (not to mention without diminishing quality), audiences reap the benefit with an almost alarming set of material: Three discs of bonus cuts and alternate takes follow the album along with an additional DVD. It’s more than enough for the hardcore Pumpkin-head and plenty to stir up mid-‘90s nostalgia for the rest of us.—Tyler Kane

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9. Paul Simon, Graceland 25th Anniversary Reissue
The sheer pop beauty of Graceland may have exceeded any controversy that arose upon the album’s creation 25 years ago. Fans younger than the album might not even be aware of the whole South African apartheid angle. Context, however, is still significant, as Graceland shaped the way we view cultural exchange and appropriation in the realm of popular music. Of course none of this would have mattered half as much if the songs weren’t so magnificent. As a whole, the record seamlessly blends varied musical traditions and while far from being the first “world music” album, it did usher in a whole new era of global pop consciousness.—Jessica Gentile

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8. Archers of Loaf, Vee Vee/All the Nations’ Airports/White Trash Heroes
Unpopular opinion alert: Archers of Loaf were the best indie-rock band of the ‘90s. Pavement’s more than fine, but their canny distance from their subjects and relative lightness in their playing style narrows their visceral power. Meanwhile, Eric Bachmann and co. howled some of the best scrambled-angst songs of all time, and contrary to popular legend, not all of them are on last year’s gloriously reissued debut Icky Mettle. Two of the greatest among these three completist-friendly packages are “White Trash Heroes,” a skittering-electronica ballad that beat Kid A by two years, and “Chumming the Oceans,” a bar-piano elegy for a diver eaten by sharks. And if you want Pavement after all, proceed to “Scenic Pastures,” which bends “Gold Soundz” til it breaks.—Dan Weiss

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7. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground + Nico
The limited edition, six-disc reissue of The Velvet Underground + Nico features a stereo remaster of the classic album, along with a mono remaster, recorded live practice sessions and a disc of alternate mixes of the songs. In other words, this set contains five hours of virtually the same songs in various levels of audio quality. Such an obsessive musical chronicle might be considered indulgent if it were of any other album, but given the indelible influence of the Velvets—from New York punk to Wes Anderson twee—such a set seems a necessity. Besides, the songs hold up no matter their setting, as they transcend Warhol’s factory and enter a post-millennial future.—Jessica Gentile

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6. Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights 10th Anniversary Edition
Interpol might have seemed oddly self-assured for a bunch of fresh-faced New Yorkers with the 2002 release of Turn on the Bright Lights, but it took years for Daniel Kessler and company to bring that music to any sort of audience. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the band’s incredible debut, Matador is gracing fans with a classy, hardbound edition of the album featuring rare images, tracks, performances and notes from the band. We see Interpol rarities like “Specialist,” “Song Seven” and “Precipitate” pressed on wax, along with a DVD of the band’s first show with longtime drummer Sam Fogarino. For diehards, it’s an impressive document of the path leading up to their beloved debut, and for everyone else, it’s still fun to look back on the pre-holster glory days of bassist Carlos D.—Tyler Kane

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5. Ryan Adams, Live After Deaf
Ryan Adams  released 15 LPs this year. That’s right—15. Not even Bob Pollard can match that. No, it’s not a return to the old days when Adams released approximately seven albums per year under various monikers. He appears to be past that. He did, however, realize that a box set could be the perfect vehicle for his over-the-top release tendencies. In June, Adams’s own Pax-Am Records released Live After Deaf, a 15-LP collection of songs from his solo acoustic tour across the pond in the summer of 2011. Each record represents a condensed set list from a specific night in a specific city (London, Dublin, Lisbon, etc.). The box set was so anticipated that the original Friday release had to be pushed back to Monday after the servers crashed at Pax-Am and its digital partner Kung Fu Nation. Those willing to patiently click and shell out $130 (plus nearly $40 for shipping the 13-pound behemoth) were rewarded with more than 144 vinyl-only live tracks (plus 218 digital versions), all pristinely recorded and chock-full of songs from 2011’s Ashes & Fire all the way back to Adams’s Whiskeytown days. The singer used to berate people for requesting non-Cardinals tracks like fan favorite “Come Pick Me Up.” Now those same fans can hear how it sounded in four different countries.—Joel Oliphint

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4. Death Cab for Cutie, The Barsuk Years
One of the most strikingly absent catalogs from the resurgence of vinyl records has to be indie darlings Death Cab for Cutie’s. Their early work contains some of the most beloved albums in the early aughts, and looking back on classics like Transatlanticism and We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, it’s easy to remember why. All of the albums are repressed on 180-gram vinyl, many for the first time (most notably You Can Play These Songs With Chords). It’s all packaged in a sleek, numbered cloth-bound box, which is signed by the band individually. This is a must-have for any vinyl-loving Death Cab fan in your life.—Tyler Kane

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3. Pedro the Lion Complete Catalog
For years, it was hard to find It’s Hard to Find a Friend—along with really any other album in the Pedro the Lion catalog—anywhere on vinyl. And for the first time, you can get your hands on Pedro the Lion’s complete, remastered and repressed catalog for a reasonable price through the Undertow web store. Although the albums aren’t being packaged as a whole anymore, you can still get them all at a reasonable price—around $14 bucks a pop. And nothing says “I care” on Christmas than gifting some of the most affecting indie records put out in the late ‘90s.—Tyler Kane

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2. Sufjan Stevens, Silver & Gold
Silver & Gold is much more than just a collection of songs. Its lavish, 80-page booklet is filled with breathless essays (Sufjan’s diatribe on the symbolism of Christmas trees, an apocalyptic and slightly chilling reflection on “Advent & The End Times” by Pastor Thomas Vito Aituo), and, of course, the collection comes with a foldable star ornament, poster, and creepy temporary tattoos (sample images: a skeleton wielding an axe with the caption “Here’s Santa,” a gangsta snowman armed with a chainsaw, pandas wearing tacky Christmas sweaters, and an odd-looking Jesus bearing the slogan “Blowin’ Your Mind!”). The function of all this intentional tackiness is unclear: A goofy reflection of Christmas’ pimped-out corporate absurdity? A surrealist collage for the sake of surrealist collage? Whatever it is, it’s a typical Sufjan spectacle.—Ryan Reed

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1. The Beatles Stereo Vinyl Box Set
If there’s any band that deserves a gorgeous, all-encompassing vinyl box set showing their entire evolution, it’s The Beatles. Filled with 14 albums and a hardback book that chronicles the band’s history, this beautiful set is the greatest collection of The Beatles’ work to be released so far. For the first time ever, this collection marks the debut of The Beatles’ first four albums and their Past Masters double LP on stereo vinyl in the United States. An incredible set for one of most important bands of all time, The Beatles Stereo Vinyl Box Set is a release that does the Fab Four justice.—Ross Bonaime

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