13 Jan 2024

The Sampler: The best reissues and compilations of 2023

From The Sampler, 2:00 pm on 13 January 2024
Charles Bradley

Photo: By Manfred Werner - Tsui (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tony Stamp reflects on ten of his favourite reissues and compilations from the past year, including Japanese lounge music, British post-punk, and Canadian synthscapes.

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Light in the Attic & Friends by Light in the Attic Records

Each year, the record label Light In the Attic reissues and spotlights a phenomenal amount of fascinating music, from Japanese City Pop, to obscure '70s soundtracks, and archival folk and jazz nuggets.

This year they collated the results of their covers series, pairing contemporary artists with songs the label has released, under the name Light in the Attic and friends.

Over its 20 tracks the album features soul icon Charles Bradley covering Sixto Rodriguez, Mac DeMarco taking on Haruomi Hosono, Iggy Pop’s version of a Betty Davis cut, and other intriguing pairings, like Canadian band BADBADNOTGOOD playing Milwaukee’s funk/soul pioneers Majestics’ ‘Key to Love (Is Understanding).

Where Were You: Independent Music from Leeds (1978-1989)

July saw the release of a whopping 68-track collection of music from bands who'd lived or studied in the North England city of Leeds. It was an attempt by its creators to give the place its proper due, placing it alongside celebrated centres like Manchester.

Where Were You features a slew of big names like Gang of Four, Scritti Politti, and Soft Cell, alongside smaller ones. As it progresses, it charts a course from post-punk to new wave, and by the time we get to The Edsel Auctioneer with ‘Our New Skin’, the jangle of '90s acts to come.

Journey to the Moon and Beyond by Mort Garson

Canadian composer Mort Garson is best known for Plantasia, an album designed to be played to plants, and one of the first to be performed entirely on Moog synthesiser. But his career is notable outside that, and the record label Sacred Bones have been collecting and reissuing selections of his work each year.

The centrepiece of Journey to the Moon and Beyond, released in November, is his soundtrack to the live broadcast of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, which played on CBS News, and was presumed lost for years, until someone stumbled over the master tape.

It appears alongside Garson’s music for a National Geographic special, music from TV commercials, and perhaps least likely, Garson’s theme for the Blaxploitation movie Black Eye.

Sumday Twunny by Grandaddy

In August, the American indie band Grandaddy celebrated 20 years of its synth rock opus Sumday, with a remastered version of the album, accompanied with a bevy of demos and outtakes, a welcome treat for fans of singer Jason Lytle’s recurring lyrical concerns about technology, skateboarding, and working-class America.

Grandaddy were always proponents of sturdy songwriting and unfussy production, and the b-sides collected on Sumday Twunny are slightly more rickety than their album counterparts, but still essential for fans, from the melancholy ‘Derek Spears’, to the upbeat strum-along ‘Gettin’ Jipped’.  

Maxinquaye by Tricky

The seminal debut by Bristol musician Tricky received an Abbey Road remaster and box set. In addition to the album it features live recordings, and six new versions of Maxinquaye songs by Tricky himself.

Truthfully, these are curiosities, and pale beside the majesty of the original record, which still sounds breathtaking.

Maxinquaye was a masterpiece of collage; taking sampling culture to new heights, it paired the words of Public Enemy’s Chuck D with drums from the Tamil film Roja on ‘Black Steel’, and on ‘Pumpkin’ had Alison Goldfrapp meander over some carefully plucked bars of Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Suffer’.

Anthology II (Movie Themes 1976-1988) by John Carpenter

John Carpenter is one of the greatest horror movie directors of all time, but since 2010, has largely devoted his time to playing XBox (which he loves to bring up in interviews), and performing live versions of the many themes he wrote for his classic movies. 

He does this with his son Cody, and composer Daniel Davies, and this year the compilation Anthology ll collected compositions from 1976 to 1988.

Because Anthology ll covers the back half of Carpenter’s career it’s missing the ratio of classics that Anthology l had, but is still essential for the director’s ability to instil dread with a minimum of notes.

Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) by Jai Paul

The story behind British musician Jai Paul’s debut is fascinating: he posted a demo on his MySpace page in 2007, which was so good it led to a record deal with XL Recordings. In 2013, an unfinished version of his debut album was leaked online, which sent Paul into hiding.

Eventually in 2019 the album got its official release - the same unfinished versions, with the name Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) -  and in 2023, was finally released on vinyl, ten years after the leak, and just prior to Jai Paul’s first ever live show, at Coachella Festival.

Paul is notorious for staying out of the spotlight, but his unfinished songs had a huge impact on underground and pop music in the 2010s. Listening to the tracks, and in particular ‘BTSTU’, the 2007 demo which started his career, they still sound thrilling.

The Endless Coloured Ways: The Songs of Nick Drake

The songs of Nick Drake, a British folk musician who had his heyday in the 70s, are so precious to fans, it was understandable to be sceptical about the prospect of a collection of cover versions. 

The first single went some way to allaying any fears. A fiery version of ‘Cello Song’ by Irish band Fontaines D.C., it balanced fealty with invention to great effect.

Elsewhere on the collection are names like Feist, Liz Phair, Radiohead's Phil Selway, and plenty more notables, including NZ’s Nadia Reid. Aldous Harding appears too, in support of her producer John Parish, who steps into the spotlight on a slightly Krautrock-inflected take on ‘Three Hours’.

Lounge Psychédélique (The Best of Lounge and Exotica 1954-2022)

In July a record label in Brighton, UK, released Lounge Psychédélique, following two prior compilations focused on French pop and garage rock. The collection is 26 tracks long, and only available in physical formats, running the gamut from Leonard Nimoy’s sixties song ‘Music to Watch Space Girls By’, classics by Mel Torme, Herb Alpert and Cal Tjader, to a late 80s cut from Japanese pop outfit Pizzicato Five. 

The compilation is is loosely defined in the best way, easy listening and soundtrack selections alongside pop songs, and present day exponents up against classics like Les Baxter’s 1970 head-nodder ‘Tropicando’.

Surround by Hiroshi Yoshimura

Japanese musician Hiroshi Yoshimura was a pioneer of ‘environmental music’, a subgenre of ambient designed to accompany existing spaces. During his career Yoshimura made tracks created to play at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, and Osaka International Airport.

2023 saw a reissue of his 1986 album Surround, which was commissioned by Misawa Homes Institute of Research and Development, to be played in their range of prefabricated homes. 

The music is serene and still, made up of electronic chimes and patient synth chords, and does sound like the arrival home after a hard day; one's house portrayed as a haven of serenity and safety.