• Brian Wilson / MF Doom

    SPIN's 10 Best Reissues of 2011

    EDITOR'S NOTE: There are two ways (at least) to look at the apparently neverending glut of Reissues currently being churned out by the superstar-lacking, MP3-haunted music industry. One, the repeated repackaging of certain artists' catalogues has reached a questionable, almost laughable extreme -- Pink Floyd seemingly believe their fans smoked so much weed while listening to the Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, et al. that they're now just braindead zombies who will hooever up whatever's left in the band's dustbin from now until that infernal inflatable pig revolts and returns to seek vengeance on its minders. Two, the music industry has been so incompetent over the years, and has colossally botched the careers of so many worthy artists, that there is a fairly substantial backlog of out-of-print or overlooked or underappreciated albums that are in need of a fresh hearing.

  • Can, 'Tago Mago, 40th 
Anniversary Edition' (Mute/Spoon)

    Germany's foremost art-rockers are too often talked about as some secret key to cool, when in reality they're just a more intense Pink Floyd or Yes, plus funk and minus the fantasy crap. Tago Mago is the messy one, where ten-minute stretches of nightmare sound effects are followed by 20 minutes of caveman groove with Damo Suzuki's caveman babble to match. And for all the pretenses, the groove is what shines -- brutal, dumb, and gloriously without end.

  • Olivia Tremor Control, 'Black Foliage: Animation Music/Music From the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle' (Chunklet)

    The OTC were one of several Athens, Georgia–area psych-pop bands who spent the 1990s synthesizing the 1960s. At best, they used tape-loop gristle and other noisy marginalia to throw bright, melody-driven songs off-balance; at worst, they punished you with ten-minute trips into backward static and slowed-down farts. The trouble was pacing: "experiments" dominate the second half of both these double albums, after you've spent the first half having fun. Quarantined to bonus discs -- as they are here -- it all works beautifully after midnight.

  • Louvin Brothers, 'Satan Is Real/Handpicked Songs 1955-62' (Light in the Attic)

    The first disc here, from 1959, is country and white-folk gospel as pure and sturdy as freshly planed wood. The occasional silvery glint of electric guitar, no sweaty Baptist hysteria -- the Louvins' intensity comes from their patience, how confidently they stay in their lane. The bedrock is those boyish, unassuming voices (Ira up high, Charlie down low), which create harmonies so geometrically perfect you're forgiven for wondering why anyone would want more -- that, after all, is how they intend to save your soul. The second disc features secular selections from fans Dolly Parton, Will Oldham, Beck, et al.

  • U2, 'Achtung Baby, Super Deluxe Edition' (Island/UME)

    U2 weren't known for their ambiguity, but by 1991 they'd turned into a teenager: pissy, confused, quitting sports they were good at. From Achtung Baby on, panoramic ballads sat side by side with mini-rebellions masquerading as "art," peaking with 1993's Zooropa, also included here, featuring Bono's drag-queen falsetto on "Lemon." Repackaging it all as a six-disc set (including remixes and alternate versions) is pretentious, extravagant, and romantic -- U2, after all.

  • Lou Reed & Metallica, 'Lulu' (Warner Bros.)

    Lou Reed & Metallica, 'Lulu' (Warner Bros.)

    Though it seems an unlikely collaboration, both artists involved here share the important distinction of riding the genius/joke line for more than half their careers. They met last year when Metallica played backup on "Sweet Jane" at Reed's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and that's mostly where this collaboration settles: blunt, '70s-style hard rock. Reed babbles like he's leaving a frustrated voice mail, while Metallica vamps. Later, Reed shouts, "C'mon, James!" and James Hetfield takes what I think is supposed to be a noise-guitar solo. Beats thud, chords chunk. The aim seems to be to take the house down to the studs, to get loose. Reed's biggest genius/joke is his uncanny vulnerability, which sometimes comes through -- especially on the meditative "Junior Dad" -- but often gets buried in 11-minute-long songs that stop relatively close to where they started.

  • The Beach Boys, 'The Smile Sessions' (Capitol/EMI)

    Brian Wilson's vision always was aligned more with America's myth than its reality — his brother Dennis was the surfer. And on the Beach Boys' unfinished colossus, he sees it end to end, from pilgrim hymnals and banjo-led frontier songs to Hollywood's version of the Wild West, with Hawaii erupting in the blue beyond. The five-disc set breaks down the album to its building blocks, while the two-CD version provides outtakes and an edit of what the original final product might have been: part tribute, part cartoon, part dream.

  • Various Artists, 'Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM' (Dust-To-Digital)

    One continent, 100 songs, all transferred from old 78s that probably would've never made it to CD otherwise. The project is archival at heart -- cultural nutrition for well-intentioned first-world folks -- but that doesn't overshadow the joy of the music, which ranges from the comparatively familiar (South African township jazz, Congolese rumba) to obscure-unless-you're-from-Togo choral music, with splotches of colonial influence and 50 backyard variations on tambourines in between.

  • Various Artists, 'Fac. Dance: 12" Mixes and Rarities 1980-1987' (Strut)

    Joy Division, New Order, and Happy Mondays: Manchester-based, Factory Records bands who built careers by asserting that post-punk's rigor and austerity was not altogether different from disco's. This comp presumes that you already have the essential stuff and are ready for the B-sides. The obscurity of Quando Quango's "Love Tempo" is unjust; the obscurity of a "nitromix" for a band that released one single on the label is probably just natural selection.

  • Dntel, 'Life Is Full of Possibilities' (Sub Pop)

    In 2001 this was one portrait of the future: a laptop producer and a series of indie-pop vocalists conspiring to make listeners weep into their scarves. In reassembling the vocalists' confessions into mosaics and kaleidoscopes, Jimmy Tamborello made them believable, as his supporting beats click, thump, and glitter. At worst, it's precious; at best, it's wide-eyed, fragmented, and unreachably sad.

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