The 10 Best Reissues of 2014

Music Lists

On New Year’s Eve, we often look forward to the year ahead—what it’ll bring, how we can better ourselves during this next trip around the sun, etc. But this time of year, we also find ourselves looking back, so it’s fitting that we close out our Best of 2014 retrospectives with a look at some of the best blasts from the past. We polled our writers and editors, and these were the 10 reissues that stuck out the most to us in 2014.

10. Love, Black Beauty
The re-emergence of Black Beauty in wide circulation, first as a 2012 limited vinyl release and now this expanded CD, is an interesting story alone. Arthur Lee’s widow and former manager turned over every stone to find a copy of the master tapes, and were only able to find a copy of an acetate given to John Sterling, a guitarist who joined up with Love in 1974. It was the clearest version of these sessions yet, and provided the foundation for this reissue. But this new edition also brings up some sorrowful “What if?” speculation. Compared to the drudgery of Lee’s solo album Vindicator and the spotty R&B of Reel To Real, the Love LP recorded with this same backing band, fans have to start imagining an alternate timeline where Black Beauty was given a proper release and Lee returned to his rightful place as one of rock’s true iconoclasts.—Robert Ham (Read Robert Ham’s full review here.)

9. American Football, American Football
We have not forgotten American Football, and like many great bands that burnt out too quickly, we do miss them—or at least regret not having more music from them. Maybe this little reunion is a step towards that. We can hope. Besides the reissue, it’s hard not to recall American Football this year, with the trumpets and other horns turning up on albums from Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Sharon Van Etten and The Antlers. “The Summer Ends” and “The One with the Wurlitzer” brought unexpected horns to the table long ago, and the songs would rest comfortably with all of these artists, unlike much of what we’d typically brand as “emo.” American Football is an album that ultimately defies genre classification, as so many of the best ones do. The album serves as what indie rock should be about, synthesizing the musical world around us, not dividing and separating.—Philip Cosores (Read Philip Cosores’ full review here.)

8. Beth Orton, Central Reservation
The songs on this album felt much more mature, free of the cute, but lightweight sentiment of a song like “Someone’s Daughter” (featured here on disc 2 in acoustic form). In its place is a much more sensual side (“I can still smell you on my fingers and taste you on my breath,” she sings on the title track) as well as an unusual facility for blues songwriting (see the ominous “Devil Song”). No matter what it all seems to come out in breathy Sandy Denny-like tones, but she can’t fight who she is.—Robert Ham (Read Robert Ham’s review here.)

7. Cursive, The Ugly Organ
In terms of the merits of the deluxe reissue quotient, the entire album is remastered, and there are those eight additional tracks originally left on the cutting room floor included here. The packaging boasts some great photos?both promo and candid live shots?of the band during the time of The Ugly Organ’s release, as well as a full-color sampling of tour posters from 2003-2004, hand-drawn album cover concepts, full lyrics, a list of every tour date during that breakout period, and most interestingly, facsimiles of hand-written lyrics and outlines for “Art is Hard,” “The Recluse” and “Butcher the Song.” Like any reissue, especially one dubbed “deluxe” at that, it is an extremely cool snapshot of where Cursive was and what they looked and sounded like during and shortly after the release of this watershed album.—Ryan J. Prado (Read Ryan J. Prado’s full review here.)

6. Emmylou Harris, Wrecking Ball
Two decades later, the powers that be decided to re-master and reissue Wrecking Ball. But rather than just creating a better sonic template to enjoy these delicate miniatures of life, doubt and desire, they pulled out alternate tracks and almost-made-it songs that are as lovely as what ended up as WB’s dozen tracks.—Holly Gleason (Read Holly Gleason’s review here.)

5. Songs: Ohia: Didn’t It Rain
While stories about Jason Molina are reaching wider audiences these days, the music of this prolific singer is also finally earning the attention it deserves. Since last year, Secretly Canadian has been reissuing Molina’s best and rarest releases in timely, thoughtfully curated packages. Last year saw the 10th anniversary edition of Molina’s most accessible and successful Songs: Ohia LP, Magnolia Electric Co., and a deep cut of the 1997 EP Hecla & Griper. Earlier this year, the label collated an exceptional box set called Journey On: Collected Singles. Now Didn’t It Rain, Molina’s 2002 penultimate album labeled as Songs: Ohia, receives the deluxe reissue treatment with eight previously unreleased tracks and home demos.—Hilary Saunders (Read Hilary Saunders’ full review here.)

4. The Dismemberment Plan, Change
The reissue is timely in that it serves as a reminder of how unparalleled The Dismemberment Plan were at their zenith, when Change was released. We’re talking about a record that fell between the band being asked seemingly out of nowhere to open for Pearl Jam during the European leg of their 2000 tour, and their tour pairing with Death Cab for Cutie in 2002 when Transatlanticism came out. Nothing to scoff at. Similarly encapsulated here in a 12-page booklet containing each song’s lyrics?including those of “Ellen & Ben,” which were not included in the original release?are Morrison and the band’s strange dichotomies as fun-loving musicians tasked with the muses of serious art students. The photography found inside the gatefold mirrors that of the album’s cover, wherein the top of an anonymous building reads simply “Change,” with a blue sky dominating the frame while the bottom corners hint at treetops, chimneys, flagpoles?the artist’s eye looking ever upward.—Ryan J. Prado (Read Ryan J. Prado’s full review here.)

3. The Clean, Anthology
The real action here is on Disc 1, when The Clean was at its most primitive and visceral. This is a band that didn’t record a proper debut album until 11 years into its career, but the numerous early singles and EPs that make up the first disc are consistently bracing and unfailingly melodic. Debut single “Tally Ho,” famously recorded for the whopping sum of $50, is a timeless garage rock classic, bolstered by Phillipps’ two-fingered organ work and a chanted chorus that would still sound great blasting out of a cheap Radio Shack boombox. “Billy Two” jangles furiously and features another indelible singalong chorus. “Point That Thing Somewhere Else” features a Velvets-like drone and a hypnotic guitar solo from David Kilgour. And those are simply three highlights on a disc that has no lowlights. All of it is ragged, defiantly amateurish and unfailingly melodic and memorable.—Andy Whitman (Read Andy Whitman’s full review here.)

2. Uncle Tupelo, No Depression
In the summer of 1990, somewhere in the puzzling chasm between lipstick-smeared hair-metal excess and flannel-clad grunge irony, Uncle Tupelo arrived on the scene like a record scratch. Their now-legendary debut, No Depression, was an album that cemented a burgeoning underground movement and eventually lent its name to a damn fine little journal of Americana music. Its sound was refreshingly unvarnished, the band striving for passion over perfection, authenticity over hip cachet. Through their ritual emulation of the ancient, they somehow manifested something entirely new—the deep waters of the American musical tradition filtered through a decade-and-a-half of jangling power pop and no-frills punk abandon, all colored by a stubborn attempt to transcend that mild yet insistent Gen-X malaise.—Steve LaBate (Read Steve LaBate’s full review here.)

1. Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West
A legendary record establishes its own vernacular, quirks and cast of characters. Surely a neophyte will be googling for an hour trying to figure out what the hell “Doin’ the Cockroach” is. They’ll smile, thinking of the nostalgia of their own first car and wishing for a vehicle as poetic as a “Baby Blue Sedan.” Pictures will swirl in his head of a man named “Cowboy Dan” who’s “a major player in the cowboy scene/He goes to the reservation drinks and gets mean.” Out of the concrete jungle, through Indian reservations and into the desert, it’s a real and sweeping portrait of the American West. This same road leads into the album’s most beautiful moment: In a trailer park. The raw human condition is laid out on “Trailer Trash,” where Brock sings of when he lived in an Oregon trailer park as a child and recalls memories of items symbolic of his white poverty like “eating snowflakes with plastic forks/and a paper plate of course.” It’s woven into the most gripping melody on the record that culminates with a guitar solo that still plays in our heads regularly, even after 17 years. It’s not just Lonesome Crowded West’s ability to spew lyrics that tell the story of every town you pass while driving up the coast on Highway 101, big or small; it’s how it tells these stories over timeless arrangements that keep the listener coming back for more and anxiously awaiting the next track on the record.—Adrian Spinelli (Read Adrian Spinelli’s full review here.)

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