1. The Smiths – The Queen is Dead
The Smiths need no introduction, and with the reissue of what is widely considered their finest work we are reminded again of why the band’s clairvoyant vision of Indie melancholia remains so pervasive.
The Queen Is Dead was The Smith’s third studio album, released by Rough Trade in 1986 and most notably featuring the single ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out.’ Morrissey was already cementing himself as a divisive figure in British pop culture, with some critics struggling to reconcile the singer’s public persona with the dark wit of his lyrics. Morrissey and Marr produced the album with Stephen Street, the engineer who had previously helped shape their self-titles 1985 debut, and further solidified their jangly, romantic sound via several layers of vocal and guitar effects.
This new 5 LP box set collates a large swathe of B-Sides and alternate takes, alongside live recordings and the original album, fully remastered in a sturdy gatefold sleeve.
2. Jon Hassell – Dream Theory in Malaya
You may know Jon Hassell from his infrequent partnerships with creative polymath Brian Eno, but his finest works remain his incredible solo excursions into uncharted territory. Founder of the ‘fourth world’ genre, which melds ambient soundscapes, indigenous folk, and futuristic synthesis, the idea has quietly influenced artists such as David Byrne and Oneohtrix Point Never.
Dream Theory in Malaya, Hassell’s fourth LP released in 1981, might be the finest example of this intriguing symbiosis. The album is inspired by the Southeast-Asian Senoi tribe, who, as anthropologist Kilton Stewart discovered, discuss their dreams amongst each other in the hope of better understanding their lives. Hassell’s compositions attempt to mirror this notion of retrieved memory through warped instrumentation, refracted musical fragments and a sense of humid geographic infusion. Wind and brass instruments wheeze and sputter above lilting hand percussion, whilst field recordings of frogs, birds and local children playing by the waters edge evoke a vividly realised, if semi-imaginary, zone. Ultimately, melody, texture and harmony melt into one another, resulting in an intangibility reminiscent of the dream.
This marks the first LP reissue of the album since the late eighties, and comes highly recommended from across the musical spectrum.
3. Maximum Joy – I Can’t Stand It Here On Quiet Nights: Singles 1981-82
Bristolian post-punk band Maximum Joy are among the most under-appreciated of the fertile early ‘80s period. Their excellent singles, released on Y Records, in particular, capture lightning in a bottle, and have here been collated by Kiran Sande and Chris Farrell of the labels Blackest Ever Black and Idle Hands, respectively.
The group was formed by singer Janine Rainforth and Saxophonist Tony Wrafter, both previously of neighbouring band Glaxo Babies, whom later recruited two more former members (Charlie Llewellin on drums and Dan Catsis on bass) alongside ex-Pop Group member John Waddington on Guitar. As a result, their sound was an energetic cross pollination of influences, fusing the jagged female energy of The Slits, the political angst of the Pop Group and the slick song-craft of Gang of Four. Bass-lines tumble effortlessly as Wrafter’s Sax bleats and yelps it’s way through the mix, Janine’s downcast yet romantic vocals tell eerie tales of lust and loneliness. The band quietly built bridges between reggae, jazz, afrobeat and funk, and deserve much more reverence for doing so.
This collection of singles marks the inaugural release of Sande and Farrell’s new collaborative label Silent Street, so keep an eye out for more interesting releases on the horizon.
4. Common – Electric Circus
Lack of promotion and the 2002 popular hip-hop climate meant that Common’s excellent Electric Circus LP slipped under the radar of many listeners at the time of its release. But, in retrospect, the rapper’s fifth studio album is rightly lauded as one of his best, and it returns this month for a reissue via vinyl subscription service Vinyl Me, Please.
As suggest by its Sgt. Pepper’s inspired album cover, Electric Circus was a masterful group effort, boasting contributions from Prince, Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige, and J. Dilla, amongst many more. The project was recorded in the renowned Electric Ladyland studios, following the likes of The Roots’ Things Fall Apart, D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Black Star’s brilliant self-titled debut. Common absorbed the afro-futurist approach being explored by both Erykah Badu and Outkast in an attempt to push the boundaries of hip-hop’s mainstream conservatism and reconfigure the notion of black artistry as a force confined to a single genre. Common also dissects tough ideas lyrically, exploring the devastating effect of sexual abuse on young women and challenging his misguided homophobic past. Overall, it’s perhaps here that Common cemented himself at the vanguard of emotionally sincere hip-hop, at a time when mainstream trends were leaning towards the opulence of narcissism.