Francis Bebey
African Electronic Music 1975–1982
Born Bad

At first, this collection may sound like a lost transmission from some long-dead satellite just now orbiting it’s way home. But at it’s best, African music is an “expression of life... universal enough to be enjoyed by music lovers everywhere,” as Francis Bebey wrote in African Music: A People’s Art. So you can certainly have an undemanding experience, just being fascinated by the exotic accents and programmed rhythms that never fail to inspire movement, but closer listening reveals that through the ancient blips and loops, however odd, Bebey never fails to express the emotions of his life. MS

Various Artists
Buttons: From Champaign to Chicago
Numero Group

Power-pop is pop music regardless of its “oomph” factor. But what happens when no one’s really listening? If the melodies are there, it’s irrelevant. What you have with Buttons: From Champaign to Chicago is 19 tracks worthy of would-be tickets to ride. It’s a little hard to imagine, but there was a time when classic power-pop was the thing, and these┬áprairie state no-names all took a shot at the big time. As is the case with every Numero Group reissue, though, Buttons isn’t concerned with who actually got to tour Wonka’s factory, but rather the passion, handwork, and optimism that went into it all. Carefully packaged, exhaustively annotated, and packed with hooks, Buttons is the sound of a bunch kids refusing to surrender. Great stuff. NK

The Cleaners from Venus
Vol. 1
Captured Tracks

Those who think there’s nothing left to salvage from our past have yet to tackle the intimidating discography of Martin Newell and his Cleaners from Venus project. Just these three albums alone is akin to discovering a hidden world never thought existed. This year was likely the first time most have even heard of the Cleaners, in part because Newell eschewed the record industry and released the bulk of his work on cassette in the early ’80s. The man’s wildly divergent, home-recorded traditionalist pop is here faithfully resurrected by Captured Tracks, telling the story, one chapter at a time, of records that defined the lo-fi movement that followed. Newell’s whimsy and flits between Kinks crunch, new wave, and even dub is engaging from beginning to end. It’s hard to doubt, in hearing this unrefined gold, that current progenitors of prolific pop from Robert Pollard to Ariel Pink kept their adoration for the Cleaners a secret for all these years. KJE

The Trypes
Music for Neighbors

While no one was exactly clamoring for it, Acute Records’ Trypes collection, Music for Neighbors, has proven to be one the smartest and most rewarding reissues of 2012. Including members of The Feelies, The Trypes were a less caffeinated, more contemplative version of their Hoboken brethren. Combining a certain George Harrison–esque mystical flavor with the Velvet Underground’s simple rhythmic punctuality, as well as Hoboken’s distinctive sense of quirk, The Trypes’ output speaks volumes about the odd, somewhat insular creativity generated across the river from where the action supposedly was in the early ’80s. In addition to containing quality music, Music for Neighbors is an outright gorgeous package that also includes an eight-page booklet with liner notes from Glenn Mercer, Ira Kaplan, and others. NK

Massive Attack
Blue Lines: 2012 Remix/Remaster

When Massive Attack’s debut album dropped in 1991, no one could have guessed that it would become one of the most influential records of the ’90s. While everyone was supposedly listening to grunge, Blue Lines quietly changed the landscape so drastically they had to create a genre just to explain it. While it’s hard to reinvent the wheel, the core trio of Mushroom, 3D and Daddy G did just that. The mix of hip-hop, reggae, dub, breakbeats, sampling and downtempo soul manifested in such an unexpected way it spawned a whole movement. Now, 21 years and a sonic spruce up later, it still retains its power as a shockingly complete statement. DSH

Various Artists
Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974–1984
Chocolate Industries/Numero Group

Numero excavator Dante Carfagna is a national treasure. In the process of compiling the electronic soul of Personal Space, he has defined an infinitely strange, sub-genre of black music. It was the discovery of Jeff Phelps’ Magnetic Eye record that prompted further spelunking into the mid-70s micro-trend of amateur R&B being made on primitive synths and rudimentary drum machines in the comforts of home. As fidelity-challenged as much of Personal Space sounds, the music here was truly ahead of the time in which it was conceived, and as a result, tracks that may have started as bluesy torch-songs and one-man funk anthems become bizarre explorations into the future. Most of the collection is impossibly obscure private press singles largely unheard until now, but in some alternate universe they are the missing links between Sly Stone and the roots of hip-hop and techno. Absolutely essential. KJE

Blur 21: The Box

Remember the Summer Olympics this year? (They were in London.) Danny Boyle lined up a wild amount of Brit-rock bands to commemorate the opening and closing ceremonies, but of course, they didn’t broadcast Blur’s performance in the US, sort of the same way the band received almost no hype in our country when they were relevant, exciting, and young in the ’90s. Fortunately, the boys in the band decided it was time for another generation to get their chance to explore the Blur catalogue with this almost comprehensive collection that even includes some early cuts from when they were called Seymour. Blur 21 is 18 hours, 37 minutes, and 15 seconds long. All killer, no filler? Of course not, but all the killer you need to prove your obsession or help the young to find their own is here. MPO

Donnie & Joe Emerson
Dreamin’ Wild
Light in the Attic

There’s a legitimate argument to be made that not every private press oddity from 30 years ago needs to see the light of day. But it holds little water in the case of Donnie & Joe Emerson’s 1979 homemade obscurity, Dreamin’ Wild, reissued this year by Light in the Attic. The album is certainly of its time, but yet it transcends any clinging references to the era, existing in a world purely of the brothers’ own design. It was Sly Stone who once declared that “everybody is a star;” Donnie and Joe expand on that notion here, positing that anybody can be Archie Bell, Brian Wilson, Wilson Pickett, Phil Spector, Barry Gibb, and, yes, Sly himself—and sometimes all at the same time. More than merely a Shaggs-style curio, Dreamin’’Wild is, though appealingly rough and ultimately lo-fi, a remarkably accomplished record that speaks to the joyous ambition that can lurk in the most unlikely of places, like rural Washington state. NK

The Aberrant Years
Sub Pop

Australia tends to get short shrift when it comes to discussions of the punk and post-punk cannon. So this collection of Feedtime’s recordings for local label Aberrant is like discovering a missing chapter of a book you thought you knew backwards and forwards. What The Aberrant Years does best is present the band’s music in chronological order then gets out of the way so the listener can see how Feedtime progressed. There’s a distinct difference between the first and the last album, and taken as a whole body of work, the journey makes sense. And if reissue tag automatically triggers ideas of remastering and pristine sound, then this set will be a shock. With the exception of the Butch Vig produced Suction, which is still pretty raw, the songs sound like they’re playing on cassette and coming out of a boombox that’s been beat to hell in the best possible way. DSH

Love Backed By Force
What’s Your Rupture?

The DIY approach of London’s Tronics ensured that their records were never going to receive widespread recognition. The project’s lone LP, Love Backed By Force, sold out the week of its release in 1981 on the Alien imprint, which closed up shop almost immediately afterwards, making the scant copies highly collectible. Thankfully, What’s Your Rupture? put the LP back into circulation this year. While one could draw lines between a number of bands that came before (Left Banke, Television Personalities) and after (Beat Happening, Comet Gain), Tronics’ sonic approach is uniquely eclectic within its somewhat anemic framework. The album sways between antiquated folk, retro-futurisism, and budget post-punk. But what Tronics excelled at, and which has made this record stand the test of time, were simple pop songs, and the album’s modernist themes and unnerving hooks more than justify its resurrection. SS