FEATURE: The Best Reissues of 2015
by Chad Jewett
The last three years have seen Numero Group methodically reissue the entire sprawling, transfixing catalogue of Olympia post-hardcore innovators Unwound as curated packages, beginning with the embryonic basement punk of Kid Is Gone and the increased sophistication of Rat Conspiracy (which paired the great Fake Train and New Plastic Ideas) and the punk-modernist perfection of No Energy (bundling the brilliant The Future Of What and Repetition). Each package was stellar, and more or less the highlight reissue of whichever year it came out, but 2015 brought the true culmination the culmination of that series – the vinyl re-release of Unwound’s monumental swan song, Leaves Turn Inside You as part of the Empire box-set. Numero Group didn’t disappoint, with another gorgeous compilation filled out with era-appropriate b-sides and rarities and a truly moving liner-note essay (in reality you could combine each set’s oral histories and have a hell of a biography). But as wonderful as it was to get a pristine new copy of one of the four or five greatest art-punk albums ever recorded, Empire also offered listeners a chance to revisit 1998’s Challenge For A Civilized Society, which, when paired alongside Leaves, reveals the hidden brilliance of an album that has gone woefully underappreciated. It’s a fitting final entry in the series, and another example of Numero Group’s impressive attention to detail.
The Promise Ring
30° Everywhere / Nothing Feels Good / Very Emergency
The past four years have seen an impressive spate of re-releases from emo’s golden age (roughly 1993-2001), including lovingly curated reissues of classics from American Football, Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, Jawbreaker, Christie Front Drive, The Jazz June, The White Octave, and Unwound. And with each new offering, one couldn’t help but wonder when we’d finally see new vinyl cuts of The Promise Ring’s storied catalogue. This year, Jade Tree Records finally obliged, reissuing the band’s first three albums — 30° Everywhere, Nothing Feels Good, and Very Emergency – each with its own cover-art appropriate color variant (the lava-like red and yellow sunburst of 30° Everywhere is especially handsome). The re-pressing also features a nice remastering, which especially benefits the rougher 30° Everywhere, and as a bonus, Jade Tree seemingly leaned into the kitschy road-trip romanticism of Nothing Feels Good by also reissuing that album on cassette – all told, a fitting celebration of emo’s cheeriest hall-of-famers.
Departures & Landfalls
If Jade Tree’s reissue of The Promise Ring’s early catalogue was overdue yet somehow inevitable, then Topshelf Records excellent near-20th-anniversary vinyl re-release of Boys Life’s seminal 1996 LP Departures & Landfalls was a welcome surprise. Interestingly centered between several different corners of their era – Departures has some of The Promise Ring’s jangle and some of Hoover’s tension, a little of Christie Front Drive’s moody poetry and a little of Mineral’s outsized drama – the album was strangely in danger of being overlooked as contemporary emo has seemingly gravitated more to the tangled-up math-pop coming out of Illinois in the 1990s. This re-release at least gives Boys Life a renewed claim on history, and the record continuously surprises you with the sheer overflow of ideas coursing through these songs – it’s a post-hardcore Rosetta stone waiting to be parsed. Remastered on 180 gram vinyl (though a clear variant with red and yellow smoke is also available) and packaged in a sturdy, glossy cardboard gatefold jacket, the release is at once one of the best sounding and best looking reissues of the year.
So far, 50 is only available as a Black Friday Record Store Day release, so interested parties should stop by their local shops ASAP (or start that inevitable Discogs search), but for the lucky 3,000 or so that are able to get their hands on a copy, they’ll find a lovingly assembled collection of punk archeology, a magnum-opus testament to one of the greatest punk bands of all time. Formed in Tacoma, Washington in the early 60s, The Sonics are ostensibly the missing link between the mega-watt R&B of early Motown, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard and the stomping proto-punk of MC5 and Iggy & The Stooges, and the band would ultimately go on to influence everyone from Mudhoney to The Hives to The Misfits to Refused. 50 assembles every recording from the The Sonics’ initial run (1961-1965), with the band’s first two LPs packaged in neat replica sleeves. The set also includes a poster, a download card, and a fascinating full-size picture book and oral history of the band, who offer amazing insight into how the Washington state quartet turned early rock and roll into the first sweaty prototype for punk.
Bangers Vs. F*ckers
A bit too feral and outré for the more stylish versions of “New Rock Revival” that made it onto MTV2 and a year’s worth of NME covers, The Coachwhips were nevertheless the sine qua non of early-2000s garage rock, melting down sixty years of power chords and 12-bar blues to bombastic, fanged bursts. 2005’s Bangers Vs. F*ckers still stands as the band’s magnum opus, making Castle Face Record’s vinyl re-release absolutely essential. As the label puts it, the LP is “remastered and recut at 45 rpm for maximum blunt force”. They weren’t kidding: if you own Bangers in its 2015 guise, it’s likely the loudest thing on your iPod not co-produced by Kanye West. The record’s insane, fizzy overdrive is reason enough to give it a spot on this life. Coming in at a lean 19 minutes and attacking each of their bombed-out blues-punk riffs with equal parts adrenal lightning and dizzy brawn, The Coachwhips penultimate album is an exhausting joy, well-deserving of its amped-up reissue.