With the endless glut of new albums, singles, EPs and standalone music video releases that the digital age seems to revel in, compilations and reissues can offer a moment’s pause: a time to look back and consider a bygone era in relation to our own, or offer a freshly-curated image of our present. But as the world charges on unrelenting, finding a moment to take that pause can too often prove easier imagined than done.
Here, we recap, in no particular order, some of the best compilations and reissues that may have slipped through the cracks this year…
Smith & MightyAshley Road Sessions 88-94
The back catalogue of Bristol duo Smithy & Mighty – and the various projects of its constituent members, Rob Smith and Ray Mighty – is as sprawling as it has been influential. Put out as a joint release by two other Bristol bass institutions, Punch Drunk and Tectonic, this collection spans a pivotal era in the evolution of UK rave music: dubby steppers plod away alongside hardcore workouts with pulsing acid house basslines; frenetic jungle breakbeats meet with ethereal techno ARP synths.
John ColtraneBoth Directions at Once
Discovered after lingering for 55 years in the possession of Coltrane’s first wife’s family, this collection of ‘lost’ 1963 studio recordings captures the pioneering saxophonist and his classic quartet at their fluid, irresistible best. The ‘reissued’ recordings today serve as a snapshot of Coltrane’s rise to greatness – a rise that would be cemented with the recording of his masterpiece, A Love Supreme, at the end of the following year.
Uneven PathsDeviant Pop from Europe 1980-1991
Pop music is, if anything, a paradox. To try and nail down a definition of it is at worst impossible and at best merely thankless. The question of what exactly constitutes a pop song has been around since the very notion of pop music was first conceived, but on this expertly-curated compilation that question is flipped, expanded: instead of asking what does constitute a pop song, Raphael Top-Secret and Music from Memory’s Jamie Tiller ask what could constitute a pop song. The results, hand-picked from across the continent, are a curious but ultimately enthralling exploration of what makes pop pop.
Dur-Dur BandDur Dur of Somalia, Vol. 1, Vol. 2
Following 2013’s excellent Volume 5 (reissued by Awesome Tapes from Africa), this double-packed collection offers listeners a new opportunity to explore the amorphous world of the Dur-Dur Band. The legendary Mogadishu outfit’s blend of funk, disco, reggae and traditional Somali rhythms is irresistible in its groove and danceability. Their first and second albums are carefully and lovingly transported to the modern age with this release, and still sound as daring and boundary-pushing as ever.
Kimiko Kasai & Herbie HancockButterfly
Released internationally for the first time this year (almost 40 years after first hitting shelves in Kasai’s native Japan), Butterfly sees Kimiko Kasai offer up silky interpretations of tracks from some of jazz, funk and disco’s most iconic artists. The playing – courtesy of Alphonse Mouzon, Benny Maupin, and of course Herbie Hancock – is exemplary, and beggars belief at how the record has gone so long without a wider release.
The always-reliable Awesome Tapes from Africa closed out the year with this spine-tingling unearthed collection from Ethiopian krar master Asnakech Worku. The record also features jazz legend Hailu Mergia (who has himself released extensively on ATFA), and, on Tche Belew, captures the two icons in an irrepressible creative dialogue with one another.
Allergy Season & DiscwomanPhysically Sick 2
Following last year’s protest-focused compilation, the New York-based label and promoters have joined forces once again for another far-reaching collection of club tracks and ambient experiments from some of the most innovative artists within electronic music’s vast spectrum. As with last year’s compilation, all the profits from the release are donated to a charitable cause – this time to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.
Brownswood RecordingsWe Out Here
Whenever a new scene or sound starts taking hold, its arrival is inevitably joined, and occasionally cemented, by a compilation that attempts to define the movement – and perhaps point toward its future direction. It’s rarely a simple task, and the resulting collections tend to land on one of two extremes: coherent and valuable or instantly forgettable. For London’s young diasporic jazz scene, the mantle was taken on by Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint – and taken on with aplomb. Featuring appearances from almost all of the most exciting players and composers from this vibrant and musically eclectic scene, the release helped set in motion what has been a barnstorming year for the capital’s fast-flourishing new musical export.
Though originally released more than 30 years ago, in 1986, this cosmic, butterfly-obsessing LP (‘lepidoptera’ is the order of insects that includes butterflies and moths) could just as easily have come from one of the many esoteric bedroom producer experimentalists to have emerged in the 21st century. Platonos’ spoken word ruminations drift across a stretching array of synths and FX as she gazes inwards and considers the very nature of her own transformative existence.
Wisdom TeethSplits: 001-4
Unlike the painfully announced, apparently misnamed, and mostly unwanted gnashers from which the label takes its name, Wisdom Teeth has spent its first four years of life steadily and quietly bringing new joys to the UK’s underground club scene. On Splits: 001-4, the imprint’s first two years of 12” split singles get a digital outing. Presented in this way (i.e. collectively) the release offers an insight into the development of the label and its founders’ vision as it found its feet – and its groove – and committed to pushing some of the UK’s most forward-thinking club music into the world. (Full disclosure, Facta – co-founder of Wisdom Teeth – is Crack staff.)