Indie Basement: Best Reissues, Box Sets & Compilations of 2020
Having already posted the Indie Basement Best Albums of 2020 list, I thought I'd run down my favorite reissues and compilations from the past year. I stayed within the general confines of the things I cover on a weekly basis. So as much as I dig the Prince ˆmega-deluxe edition and Neil Young's Homegrown, they're not on this list. For the reissues, I picked things that either had lots of worthy bonus features or had been out of print for a long time (often both). I also picked an additional 12 reissues from this year that didn't quite fit that criteria but were also worthy of note.
Speaking of Neil, Homegrown made our list of 5 Essential "Lost" Classic Rock Records of 2020.
Check out the list below.
INDIE BASEMENT - BEST REISSUES, BOX SETS & COMPILATIONS OF 2020
12. Mort Garson - Music From Patch Cord Productions (Sacred Bones) [Buy it on CD or Vinyl]
Mort Garson was a session musician and arranger who worked on records by everyone from Glenn Campbell to Mel Torme, but in certain record nerd circles he's best known for his cult classic 1976 electronic album Mother Earth’s Plantasia, music written and recorded specifically for houseplants ("and the people that love them"), which got reissued by Sacred Bones last year. Mort had a lot more where that came from, though, and Sacred Bones reissued three of them this year and also put out this compilation of unreleased tracks culled from over 100 reels of music that had never before seen the light of day. Weird, wonderful and ahead of their time, these bleepy, bloopy, moog-y instrumentals beat everything from John Carpenter to the 1980 post-punk band of your choice to the punch.
11. Redd Kross - Red Cross EP (Merge), Phaseshifter & Show World (Third Man) [Buy it on CD or Vinyl]
An iconic slab of California punk, Redd Kross's debut 7" EP came out before the band were barely old enough to drive (and before they got sued by the Red Cross for spelling their name the same way) and contains such all-timers as "I Hate My School," "Annette's Got the Hits" and "Standing in Front of a Poseur." Merge reissued the EP for its 40th anniversary, adding four demos from the era and a live version of "Fun with Connie" recorded at Black Flag's Hermosa Beach hangout The Church. Also reissued this year, for the first time on vinyl, were Phaseshifter and Show World, Redd Kross' two glammy mid-'90s alt-rock album for Mercury Records.
10. Pale Saints - The Comforts of Madness (4AD) [Buy it on CD or Vinyl]
UK shoegaze greats Pale Saints' full-length debut was 4AD Records' first release of the 1990s and it remains one of the best albums released by the label during its arty first era. In some ways the band sounded like everything on 4AD at once, part ethereal Cocteau Twins, part noisy Pixies indie rock roar, and with the eccentric bent of Throwing Muses. Out of print for decades -- and never officially released in the U.S. -- this reissue was 4AD's first release of the 2020s and has been remastered from the original tapes. The deluxe 30th anniversary edition comes with a bonus disc featuring studio demos of the entire album, plus the band's first Peel session.
9. Grandaddy - The Sophtware Slump 20th Anniversary Edition (Dangerbird) [Buy it on Vinyl)
Grandaddy's 2000 high-concept magnum opus The Sophtware Slump imagined a world full of alcoholic robots, sad computer programmers, lost pilots, stuntman Evel Knievel, and forests made of discarded appliances, but was highly relatable thanks to frontman and songwriter Jason Lytle's empathetic, highly melodic style. It actually feels more relevant now than in did in Y2K. In additions to the bonus material of b-sides, demos and other rarities you'd expect from a 20th Anniversary Edition like this, Lytle has re-recorded the original album's songs on an old wooden piano that makes tracks like "The Crystal Lake," "Under the Weeping Willow" and "Jed the Humanoid" all the more elegiac.
8. The Divine Comedy - Album Reissues + Venus, Cupid, Folly & Time box set (Divine Comedy Records) [Buy it on CD and Vinyl]
Neil Hannon has been making erudite, baroque and very British-sounding pop for 30 years as The Divine Comedy and while barely known (or released) in North America, records like Casanova, A Short Album About Love, Fin de Siècle and Office Politics were hits in the UK. (He also did the theme songs for Father Ted and The IT Crowd.) Most of his '90s output has been out of print since its initial release so this full-discography reissue series has been especially welcome. Fans might want to buy these reissues -- remastered at Abbey Road and featuring loads of bonus tracks -- for Hannon's witty, contextualizing liner notes alone, and for the die-hards there's the Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time 24-disc CD box set that includes The Divine Comedy's rarely heard debut album Fanfare for the Comic Muse (which was not reissued separately).
7. Various Artists - Bob Stanley & Pete Wiggs Present The Tears Of Technology (Ace Records) [Buy it on CD or VInyl]
Synthesizers in the '70s were so expensive, only huge rock stars could afford them, but prices dropped by the end of the decade, which was perfect timing for the post-punk movement who used the nascent technology to create a whole new era of sound and feeling. While "synthpop" may be associated with the bright and shiny '80s, this excellent compilation shows that synthesizers were especially suited for the malaise that was Thatcher-era Britain. Curated by Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, Tears of Technology features lesser-known cuts from OMD, The Human League, Soft Cell, Simple Minds, John Foxx, Throbbing Gristle offshoot Chris & Cosey, and Julian Cope's The Teardrop Explodes, paired with lost classics from groups who didn't make it much beyond a couple singles (Turquoise Days, New Musik, Electronic Circus), for a wonderful 80 minutes of "electronic melancholia, synthesized intimacies and insights."
6. Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth 40th Anniversary Special Edition (Domino) [Buy it on CD or Vinyl]
Welsh post-punk group Young Marble Giants were only together for two years and change, but their spare, haunting sound has cast a very long shadow. You can hear their influence in everything from Stereolab to Cat Power to Belle & Sebastian to The xx. "We were quiet and slow and melodic and all those things you shouldn't be, especially after punk," the group's Stuart Moxham told Sounds. The band's sole album -- one of Kurt Cobain's all-time favorites -- has been given a wonderful 40th anniversary reissue, featuring a remastered edition of the original with a bonus album that includes all the songs from their crucial Test Card and Final Day EPs, plus demos and a live DVD of one of their last-ever shows. It's everything they ever released and more all in one place. Essential.
5. Sleaford Mods - All That Glue (Rough Trade) [Buy it on CD or Vinyl]
Mixing punk, post-punk, hip hop, and bilious spleen-venting spoken word, Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn hit on a unique style as Sleaford Mods. After 13 years and an even 10 albums under their belt, the Mods decided to do just a little looking back with this double album compilation that's not quite a singles collection, not quite a rarities comp and not quite a greatest hits. All that Glue is a little of all three, featuring 72 minutes of "hits" (including bilios bangers "Jobseeker," "Jolly Fucker," "Tied Up in Nottz," "Tweet Tweet Tweet"), terrific deep cuts and rarities It's an excellent entry point into a group whose sound has proved remarkably resilient.
4. Rowland S. Howard - Teenage Snuff Film (Fat Possum) [Buy it on CD or Vinyl]
Nick Cave gets much of the credit for The Birthday Party, but the late Rowland S. Howard's wild guitar-playing and songwriting prowess is just as intrinsic to their sound. His swaggering, swarthy, slow-burn pirate-surf style -- which he would go on to use in Crime & The City Solution and These Immortal Souls -- has influenced countless artists around the world over the last 40 years, including Courtney Barnett, Bambara, and Fat White Family. His 1999 solo debut, Teenage Snuff Film, is all brooding atmosphere, dark romance and malevolent tension. Out of print for years, this is a lovely new edition pressed onto three sides of a double vinyl set with the fourth side an etching. It's a fantastic album as well as a great entry point into Howard's discography.
3. New Order - Power Corruption & Lies Definitive Box Set (Rhino) [Buy it on Vinyl]
It took New Order a couple of years to fully escape Joy Division's shadow, but 1983's Power Corruption & Lies presented a group who had found their sound and were riding a creative crest. From "Age of Consent" though "Leave Me Alone," New Order are firing on all cylinders, making a unique blend of rock and synthpop that has been copied endlessly in the nearly four decades since. This "definitive" reissue was remastered from the original tapes and sounds amazing, plus it comes with two extra discs of rarities, including early "writing session" jams of the songs, Peel Sessions, and early versions of non-LP singles "Blue Monday" and "Thieves Like Us," and a 22-minute version of "5 8 6" that was recorded for a video art installation. Separate from the box set, "Blue Monday" and "Thieves Like Us" were both reissued on 12" this year as well.
2. Various Artists - Strum &: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987 (Captured Tracks) [Buy it on CD or Vinyl]
R.E.M. were one of the most influential bands of the '80s, at least in the underground rock scene, and dozens upon dozens of bands sprung up in their jangly wake. Most of them didn't get much further than college radio, independent record stores or their local rock club, but they made a lot of great music that's just waiting to be rediscovered. Enter this excellent double-disc compilation. Guitars chime and strum at breakneck speeds, melodies soar and though fidelity is often low, the hit count is very high. Think of it as the '80s version of Nuggets, or an American version of C-86, and it may send you down a rabbit hole for the rest of these bands' catalogues.
1. Pylon - Box (New West) [Buy on CD or Vinyl]
Athens, GA post-punk cult heroes Pylon made jittery, danceable post-punk with a southern-fried swagger. They toured with Gang of Four and B-52's, were covered by R.E.M. and have influenced countless bands over the last 40 years but most of their catalog has been out of print since its initial release, and not available on streaming services. That changed this year with this awesome box set featuring their two '80s albums for DB Records -- 1980's Gyrate and 1983's Chomp -- plus bonus albums full of singles and rare recordings. Your favorite band probably likes them, and now everybody can dig in. If you don't need the big box, Gyrate and Chomp are available as standalone reissues, and it's all streaming too.
Twelve Albums I'm Glad Are Also Back on Vinyl as of 2020
The Boo Radleys - Everything's Alright Forever (Music on Vinyl)
Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record (Rough Trade) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
The Fall - The Infotainment Scan (Demon) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
PJ Harvey - Dry / Rid of Me / To Bring You My Love (Too Pure) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
Longpigs - The Sun is Often Out (Demon)
Love Tractor - Love Tractor (Happy Happy Birthday to Me) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
Jonathan RIchman - I, Jonathan (Bar-None) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
Saint Etienne - Words and Music (Heavenly) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
The Specials - More Specials (Chrysalis) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
XTC - Drums & Wires (Panegyric) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
Yo La Tengo - Electr-o-Pura (Matador) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
Hiroshi Yoshimura - Green (Light in the Attic) [Buy on Vinyl or CD]
For more year-end lists, browse our Best of 2020 tag.