FEATURE: The Best Reissues of 2016, Part 1
by Chad Jewett
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Formlessness 2016
Despite likely being the definitive artistic statement of the early-2010s emo renaissance, Formlessness, the debut EP from emo collective The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, spent its first six years in circulation as an unmastered, semi-EQed basement recording. This, of course, defines much of the record’s charm. The band’s great subject has been how one survives an impossible world on one’s own humble terms, and Formlessness embodies the idea. Yet there was also a sense that Formlessness deserved the clarity and finality of an official remaster/reissue. This year it finally received that. Yet, The World Is A Beautiful Place, ever the iconoclasts, appended that reissue with an updated recording of the EP, doubling its length with 2016 versions of the entire thing. Thus, the reissue becomes a fascinating study in contrasts – between the four-person bedroom-pop art project of the 2010 version and the outsized grandeur of the nearly ten-strong collective that is The World Is circa-2016, lending the whole thing a poignant subtext: a study in time gone by.
Bear vs. Shark – Right Now You’re In The Best of Hands/Terrorhawk
Considering just how often reissues are weighted down with bonus tracks (good!), demos (usually banal!), live recordings (hit or miss!), there’s something refreshing about the approach taken by Bear Vs. Shark and Equal Vision Records in their reissue of the Michigan post-hardcore band’s two seminal full-lengths, Right Now You’re In The Best of Hands and Terrorhawk. With the exception of the collection’s striking new cover-art, which recalls the surreal, skeletal work of Ralph Steadman, the reissue is ostensibly a no-frills collection of both albums under one double-LP roof. The pressing is on lovely white 180-gram vinyl and the remastering job is unobtrusive. The sense one gets is of a project in which everyone was confident that the music was enough. They were right; Bear Vs. Shark remains one of post-hardcore’s most singular bands, with a core aesthetic that ranges from the delicate, trickling math-rock of Pele to the ferocious roar of Jawbox. This reissue gives us their best work with no distractions, delivered with clean clarity.
Blonde Redhead – Masculine Féminine
Before the New York art rock band began melting their unruly early sound down into more mannered shoegaze shapes, Blonde Redhead were channeling their ambition and imagination into nervy noise-punk. Masculine Féminine, released by the forever-dependable Numero Group, compiles those early days, collecting the band’s first two albums (Blonde Redhead and La Mia Vita Violenta) as well as all the singles, live recordings, and ephemera that accompanied and surrounded those releases. “Early Days” collections like these are often largely academic (Unwound’s Kid Is Gone box, for instance, is mostly interesting for the breadcrumb trails that lead to New Plastic Ideas and Fake Train), but Masculine Féminine is actual honest-to-god fun, finding the experimental trio in all their brainy, elliptical glory, but dedicating that cerebral artiness to garage stompers like “I Am There While You Choke On Me” as well as bedroom-pop experiments like “Not Too Late”.
Bob Dylan – The 1966 Live Recordings
While a 36-disc collection of live performances, largely made up of the exact same setlist, is arguably way over the top, there is something to be said for the completist nature of Bob Dylan’s recently released The Live 1966 Recordings box-set. It’s all there. And indeed, the tour, which spanned the United States, Europe, and Australia, is one of the three or four most historically important events of its kind, finding Bob Dylan and his touring band (consisting largely of members of The Band) playing to frequently hostile crowds who were outraged at Dylan’s turn from protest folk to the amphetamine-fed electric blues of Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Thus there is a tension haloing many of these recordings (especially the fairly high-quality tapes sourced from the sound board) that lends the whole thing a cinematic quality very rarely found on live records. Whether it’s the acidic bite with which Dylan frequently soaks the already sardonic “Fourth Time Around” or the proto-punk fury underlining several of the performances of “Like A Rolling Stone,” Live 1966 captures Dylan and his band fighting for survival in a moment of volatile change, and remains fascinating the whole way through.
Otis Redding – Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings
Similarly exhaustive in its scope and similarly fascinating for the way it captures an artist reaching his peak in a time of flux, Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings offers a complete document of soul legend Otis Redding’s three-night stint at the storied Whisky A Go Go rock club. Redding was enamored with the hippie movement – both its Summer of Love openness and its radical reinventions of rock and roll – and his 1966 engagement at the Whisky is something of a prelude to the Stax soul god’s triumphant appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival the next year, wherein Redding would positively own the evening in one, electrifying 20-minute burst. Live At The Whisky is more diffuse and less sharply explosive. Here Redding’s band is bigger (and thus less wiry), his setlist more expansive (for instance, his Monterey set begins with the R&B dynamite of “Shake”, shouted like an Olympian decree, whereas here Redding plays around with less immediately galvanizing intros). But the performances remain brilliant, the Redding remains soul music’s most engaging showman, and the opportunity to hear seven whole, well-recorded Otis Redding sets remains a gift from the heavens.